I deliberately made this image too small so you’d have to click on this link to see it bigger!
My brother Joe Prever, who recently started writing for Catholic Phoenix, pointed me in the direction of the artist, Nicholas Roerich, a Russian painter of the early 20th century. A fascinating guy with varied interests, he did a number of religious paintings. I’m always on the look-out for new religious art, just to reassure myself that you can combine theology with modernity and come out with something other than the standard issue “my hands are bananas” clip art:
I mean, there’s nothing terribly wrong with this kind of picture, except for its pernicious ability to teach bored children flipping through the missalette that religion is for, you know, neanderthals. Duhhh. What’s the deal with that, anyway? Why did 20th century art start showing modern men looking like stodgy, doughy, immobile cave men, while actual cave men were painting elegant, funny, snappy portraits?
Now the original picture again:
Oh, you can’t see that — you better click on the link. It’s called “The Last Angel.” I’m trying to wake up the art part of my brain after a long, long sleep, so be patient with me.
Part of what makes this picture so alarming is the aggressive combination of different styles, isn’t it? The flowers in the foreground are almost primitive, the mountains in the background are Chinese, and those wild, roiling clouds are something like a combination of Cezanne and Rouault.
But the city, the flames, and of course the angel have the flat perspective, the brushwork, and the stylization of a Russian ikon. The contrast tells you what is going on here: something really different, SLAMMING into the world. Days of wrath. I don’t think this one is saying “Be not afraid.”
Or, as I saw it phrased on a bumper sticker once: Angels are just teddy bears with wings.