by Grace Cantillon, Hunt Museum 3 minutes to read
Keywords: Angel, Stained Glass, Medieval
There are over 40 angels in the Hunt Museum Collection. This one, in medieval stained glass, is distinctive in several ways. He is the only angel with a broken wing; he is playing an ancient trumpet, and he is looking wistfully downwards at a scene beneath him. What is his story? Can he fly? Why is he sad?
Stained-Glass Panel of Angel with a Trumpet – Item code CG 042 – The Hunt Museum Collection, Limerick, Ireland.
Medieval English stained glass is rare because most of it was destroyed during the Reformation. This piece is possibly a fragment – 45cm.x28.4cm. – of a large East window depicting The Last Judgement in Bristol Cathedral. The angel may have been part of a Heavenly Choir in the upper part of the scene, while the ‘saved’ and the ‘damned’ are being separated in the lower part of the window.
The East Window, Bristol Cathedral – Image source
The original Augustinian Abbey in Bristol (c.1140AD), was a simple monastic building. Later developments between 1220 and 1280 enlarged the church in the early Gothic style with new ideas of height, light and decoration. Our angel is part of this development, so he may be nearly 800 years old!
Charles Winston,(F.1) the nineteenth century expert on medieval stained glass, described developments in the art/craft between 1000 and 1500 AD. He described the earliest period as Mosaic stained glass, made from POT glass, or whole pieces of coloured glass, which were fitted together like mosaics to form patterns or pictures. The uneven thickness and variation in the colour of the blue glass in this angel picture is typical of an early date. His delicate face is painted directly on to the glass using brown enamel and the manner in which a strong line outlines his nose and then sweeps upwards to form an eyebrow is also found in early glass painting. This brown enamel is delicately used to show features such as the folds of his garment. His weight rests on his left leg, and his whole body is curved and almost in motion. This graceful and natural pose is typical of Gothic influence. His green right wing swings up at a natural angle, but the left one droops and has much less feathers. May be he was never able to fly!
His trumpet is very long and has three parts. His lips blow into a long narrow tube. This reed is attached to another wider tube, which in turn is joined to a flared section. This instrument is probably a ‘buisine’, a metal trumpet often made of brass, and introduced into Europe from the Crusades. They can be two meters long and are first mentioned in the French epic, La Chanson de Roland in 1100AD. In art, buisines are often played by angels, especially in illuminated manuscripts in the medieval period. The angel holds the upper tube with his left hand, while lower down his right hand faces outwards using his four beautiful tapering fingers under the lower tube. Our angel may not be able to fly, but he can make music.
Is our angel looking sad because he is watching the damned being directed towards the fires of hell? This medieval angel always calls to me from another era.
The Hunt museum has other angels to show you. Some fly, some do apparently wicked deeds, some are guardians. Watch this space for more news about our angels, or better still, come and see them for yourself.
1. British Library, Add. ms 33847.f.10v., Add. ms 35211,vol. 1 no.69).
This angel appeared in an exhibition in the Royal Academy of Arts, London, Nov-March 1987- 1988 titled “The Art of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England”. He was also featured on a Christmas card from the Council of Europe, reproduced in consequence of the 12th European Art Exhibition, “Gothic Art in Europe”, England c.1280, Louvre, Paris 1968.