Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Wounded Angel

Hugo Simberg painted The Wounded Angel between 1898 and 1903. It is a large oil painting, height 127 cm (50 inches) and width 154 cm (60 inches).

I was fascinated by Hugo Simberg’s painting, Wounded Angel. It was the illustration that accompanied Elfrieda Volk’s essay of the same name in the December 25 Adventist Review. Its impact on me was visceral and immediate, and led me reassess my assumptions about religious symbols and the human condition. Simberg refused to answer questions about the painting, but I’m interested in discovering how it “speaks” to you.

The picture is difficult to produce electronically because of the reproductions available on line and its somber colors, and so I have included details that may be difficult to see along with what is known about the setting.

In the painting, two boys, looking very solemn, walk along a deserted road by a body of water. Between them they carry a makeshift wooden stretcher on which sits an angel-girl, who has injured her wing.

The allegorical procession with the angel walks through quite a realistic landscape. It is, in fact, Eläintarha Park in Helsinki, and even today the same road skirts the shores of Eläintarha bay. In Hugo Simberg's day, the park was a popular spot for leisure-time activities among the working classes, while the gentry favoured Kaivopuisto park. At the time, many charity institutions were located in Eläintarha park; in The Wounded Angel the healthy boys are carrying the injured girl towards the Blind Girls' school and the Home for Cripples.

The boys and the angel are depicted from the side in the foreground of the painting. The boys seem to be walking slowly and heavily, and no wonder, they are carrying something precious. The younger boy, walking in the front, is dressed in black and wearing a black hat. He carries the stretcher looking straight ahead, but the boy at the back has turned his serious face towards the viewer and makes direct eye contact. He is wearing a brown jacket that is too small and black trousers. The trouser legs are tucked inside long leather boots.

The color scheme of the painting is very subdued. The light fragility of the angel-girl creates a stark contrast to the earthy, solemn figures of the boys. The angel sits on the stretcher hunched forward, head held down, and holding onto the sides of the stretcher with her hands. She is wearing a long white gown, whose hem sweeps the ground. Her feet are bare. In her right hand the angel holds a small bunch of flowers, already wilting. There is a white kerchief around her head, shading her eyes.

The painting does not reveal what has happened to the angel-girl. On closer inspection, you can see that her left wing is slightly torn at the bottom. The bright white wing has also been stained with some drops of blood.

The background for this sad procession is a quiet landscape by a body of water. The bottom of the painting consists of a dirt road, along which the boys tread, from right to left. Small tussocks of white flowers, resembling those held by the angel, grow by the roadside. The middle ground of the painting is filled by marshy meadow, pierced by a narrow stream flowing diagonally from the right into the water. By the stream there stands a delicate pale green willow. Water and an empty shore at the far side form the background of the painting. At the very top of the painting there is a narrow strip of sky.

The composition of The Wounded Angel is simple: the road in the foreground, the shore in the middle ground and the water and the opposite shore are all horizontal elements. The vertical figures of the boys, stretching nearly the whole height of the painting, and the slumped figure of the angel create the dynamics in the painting.


Andy Hanson said...

I received this email from Bob Johnson
One important detail, not mentioned: the older boy is casting toward us a reproachful glance. He seems to be saying that we are to blame.

Andy Hanson said...

Just finished looking at your comments on the latest AP. Fascinated by your response to Simberg's The Wounded Angel. I, too, was captivated by the painting. It is one of the few religious-themed works I'd be delighted to have hang in my office. Reflecting further on the picture, as per your invitation, a couple things come to mind. Western Arts is one. A few days ago Arleen and I were talking about the courses we took at PUC. We rated Western Arts among the best. I have said over the years that what we learned in that class has benefited me as much as any class I ever took.

When I reflect on The Wounded Angel I see and Ark of the Covenant motif. The angel has been through some form of distress. The situation calls for mercy and the poles become the vehicle of mercy--the Mercy Seat. The two boys bear the one who benefits from that mercy. Mercy carries its own price and the boy in front, by his determined look, lets us know he is willing to pay that price, come what may. The trailing lad, with his look lets us know he's not sure about where all this leads, but he's game to give it his all. He does not pretend to understand what brought the angel to the point of such despair nor is he aware of why he and his young friend are stuck with the transport detail. But he will trudge through to the end.


samantha said...

She is a child of about 11,she has great spiritual power she has a Heavenly Father but not earthly parents she has been abused and holds her head low to endure stoically the subordination this represent to one of such a very high order.Her wasteland is the earth her being the oath and testimony brought down quietly silenced and although hidden from exposure her wilderness is the wilderness of the book of revelation of speaking of terrible abuse seeing through her blindfold seeing beyond innocence and beyond purity.About her head had been the 12 Stars electric shock treatment to forget her carriers mere psychiatric nurses leading her toward so called earthly help. READ my book An Oath To hell for the complete answer

Jim Walters family said...

Is this blog still working?