The Angel Asiel, the Fear of God

A young friend once happened onto an illustration of this painting bearing the simple label “Angel.” He said to me, “At first, I thought it was a portrait of someone named Angel. Then I saw the wings. So, what is it really?”

Clearly, this is not the white-nightied angel of the conventional Christmas card world. Instead, it is one of many examples of the militant angels of the Peruvian School of Cuzco, dating from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. This one, labeled “Asiel, the Fear of God,” is an elegant winged figure in exaggerated European dress: court trousers and ballooning sleeves, a plumed hat, ribbons, and an elaborate overlay of gold lace. And he is flourishing what was then the most advanced of high-tech weaponry, the arquebus or matchlock musket. He stands close to the picture plane and fills the whole of the canvas against a dark, empty background. How are we to explain him?

A Fusion of European & Indigenous Elements

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Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She is the author of A Thousand Words: Reflections on Art and Christianity (St. James Press, 2023). She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland. She is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

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