All About The Angels
ARC Lesson: What Do Angels Look Like?
After a lifetime of chatting with the angels, Liv Lane loves being able to share their light through the art & writings they collaborate on — including this free guide.
What Do The Angels Look Like?
Human beings have long tried to figure out and describe what angels look like. But they’re ethereal beings, unlike anything we’ve ever seen and, in many ways, beyond our limited comprehension. We want them to fit into a human-sized box to make sense to us, but they just don’t fit in there. There are, however, striking similarities in writings and artistic renderings spanning thousands of years. Let’s dive in and find them!
Centuries-old religious texts are interestingly vague in their physical descriptions of angels. Though angels are mentioned in the Bible over 200 times, there’s no definitive description of how they look to those they visit. There are references to some appearing in human form in “white robes,” and other “seraphim” angels (those said to have the highest ranking) with six wings, including two shielding their faces and a pair on their feet. When an angel appears to the men guarding the tomb of Jesus, the Bible says “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow” (Matthew 28:4).
Angels also appear as supernatural beings throughout Jewish texts. The Hebrew word for angel, mal’ach, means messenger. The Talmud says the three angels who visited Abraham to deliver the news that his wife will bear a son were Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. And though the Bible reports that the angels, disguised as men, ate a meal that Abraham had prepared for them, Rabbinic literature claims the trio only appeared to eat since angels don’t actually need sustenance. When not pretending to be human, the angels’ appearance defies comprehension; Michael is said to be entirely made of snow, while Gabriel is made of fire — and yet they don’t harm one another even when they get close in proximity.
Belief in angels is a very important aspect of the Muslim faith. These messengers of Allah are made of pure light and humans usually cannot see them. In both the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, angels are said to be very large with wings (sometimes up to four pairs, but Archangel Gabriel has 600 wings!), they aren’t male or female but are incredibly beautiful, they can take on the form of humans but they don’t need to eat.
Hindus and Buddhists believe they are protected by deities who act on their behalf in ways that are very similar to the concept of angels. In Hinduism and Buddhism, believers say that every living thing has an angelic being called a deva (male) or devi (female), assigned to guard it and help it grow and prosper. In Hindu, the word “devas” means “shining ones” because they are spiritually enlightened and made of bright divine energy. They can channel that energy into any form, from a beautiful wildflower to a luminous archangel, but most illustrations and statues of these devas depict them as regal, colorful and beautiful, like royalty. Each deva or devi works to inspire and motivate the person or other living thing that it guards, helping that earthly being to better understand the universe and become one with it.
While this is only a brief and broad overview of the visions of angelic beings in the world’s largest religions, I’m guessing you can already see some similarities, right? Let’s see if the same can be said when we explore angels through the lens of divinely-inspired artists throughout time.
We can see in creative works from ancient Greece to early Egypt, artists have attempted for thousands of years to create renderings of the supernatural presences they’ve seen or heard about. From hieroglyphics in tombs to altars in Iraq dating back to 3000 BC, artists portrayed angelic helpers with similar traits – even though they had no way to communicate or compare notes with one another. Sometimes the angels were half animal and half human. Typically, they were made to look regal and holy. And, almost always, depictions of the angels have light incorporated into the art, from glowing halos to shimmering mosaic backgrounds.
The earliest artistic interpretation of an angel was found in the Catacomb of Priscilla, a quarry used for Christian burials in the 3rd century. But the contemporary version of what angels look like began to emerge in the 4th century — humanlike, with strong bodies and sturdy wings. The first known depictions of angels with large wings appeared as carvings on a marble coffin — known as Prince’s Sarcophagus — sometime between the second half of the 4th century and early in the 5th century.
In the Middle Ages, artists frequently painted gold backgrounds with angels floating behind holy subjects like the Virgin Mary or Baby Jesus, sometimes playing instruments like the harp.
In the early Renaissance, angels in art began to look less ethereal and more earthly, more human. In the 1400’s, for instance, Leonardo da Vinci’s vivid interpretations of angels would eventually become some of the most celebrated and copied angel paintings in history. He envisioned practical wings on angels; he knew how to paint humans, so he gave great thought as to how a pair of wings might fit on and stem from a human body. The result became the gold standard, if you will, for how angels might look.
By the 1800s, realism had made way for perfectionism; Neoclassical paintings of angels portrayed them as beautiful, porcelain-skinned female figures and sweet cherubs — sometimes all naked. In the 20th century, modern artists like Marc Chagall borrowed from the past and also infused color and whimsy into their depictions of angels.
What stuns me most about all the similarities in depictions of angels across thousands of years and thousands of miles is that, until relatively recently, there was no efficient communication between countries and cultures. It’s not as if you could scan an image of an angel scrawled into a cave wall and send it to another artist thousands of miles away. Throughout time, people’s experiences with the angels have had common threads and everyone’s just been doing their best to depict their own encounters or stories they’ve heard of these light-filled beings. Though the artistic interpretations of the angels has changed over thousands of years, the similarities throughout time – white and golden light, levitation and flight, ethereal presences, swift movements, scenes of divine assistance – is pretty incredible.
Personally, I am endlessly curious about the artists throughout history who’ve created angel art from their own visions, and those who have been inspired to follow divine guidance to create.
As you may already know, I dabbled in arts & crafts as a hobby for many years, dabbling in everything from making magnets to designing greeting cards. But in 2017, the angels I’ve seen and talked to all my life swooped in one morning to say it was important that I begin painting with them. Painting had never been my thing which, in hindsight, is probably the very reason why the angels guided me to paint. With so little experience, I had to trust them implicitly and follow their directions to a tee. I couldn’t rely on my own skills or knowledge – I had to just have faith in their guidance. And when I did, I was amazed by what showed up on the canvas, and by the messages they delivered along with each painting.
The creations we collaborate on have evolved over time, and I particularly love when we team up to create paintings of the angels – especially personalized guardian angel originals that are specifically created for a customer. When I sit down to paint, the angels aren’t guiding me to create literal representations of them; in fact, that would be impossible, and the reason artists have been challenged for centuries to paint angels as something our brains can comprehend. It’s like asking someone to paint the speed of light; we might try, but it’s impossible to fully capture it because it’s beyond the scope of human comprehension.
Each guardian angel is colorful and abstract, with dots of light, whimsical details and wings too big to fit the page. The painted angels intentionally do not have facial features – just warm, glowing, textured light to draw people in. The angels don’t want the angel art we create to personify or humanize love and light, but rather to infuse the art with so much energy that their love and light emanates from it. The goal is not to define what an angel looks like, but to help people feel the energy and delight of being in their presence. Personally, my favorite feedback is not “I love your angel art” but, rather, “I feel something from your angel art.”
That happens for some people with my art, but I’m under no illusion it will happen for all. If another’s artist’s angel art resonates with you and makes you feel more comfortable – be it classic or modern, painted or sculpted – then use that art to enrich your personal vision of the angels. The angels simply hope the energy within any art that speaks to you will awaken you to your own divinity.
Any artistic depiction of the angels throughout history reflects the public consciousness of the time in which it was created and the personal perspectives and experiences of the artist. The fact that for thousands of years, we have been attempting to capture the angels’ appearance with no absolute success is telling; they are so much more than our limited skills and tools can recreate, but we keep on trying. They are so mysterious, so ethereal, so blindingly beautiful, so quick and elusive that they keep us guessing to this day. It makes me love them even more.
If you are fascinated by their presence, too, dive deeper into establishing or strengthening your connection with them by joining The ARC. You can explore whatever calls to you and whenever you feel like you could use some divine intervention — no matter what that looks like.
ANGELS AMONG US
Your angels are with you whether you acknowledge them or not. But when you know how to recognize their signals, interpret their messages and lean on them for specific help, it can be life-changing.