Angel Closet

Unknown Italian, Angel, c. 1600-50, Etching, 147×178 mm, London, British Museum

In addition to the two galleries, three other rooms of Tart Hall stand out: a room with only one painting in it- a Holy Family- and a chessboard, a room with a representation of the goddess Diana and a room Elizabeth Chew calls the Angel Closet.

Jan Sadeler after Jacopo Bassano, Angel and Shepherds, c. 1575-1600, Engraving, 221x280mm, London, British Museum

This room was decorated with six different angel scenes, two of them allegedly by Jacopo Bassano and one by Lucas Cranach. In addition, it contained eight small bronzes with replicas of famous antiquities (the name springing to mind here is of course Bonacolsi l’Antico, unfortunately I haven’t found convincing hints for this anywhere yet).

Just as Queen Henrietta Maria’s recipe collection was also published in print, she also had a room adorned with six images of angels, her chapel in Somerset House (Erin Griffey, On Display: Henrietta Maria and the Materials of Magnificence at the Stuart Court 2016 and Caroline Hibbard, The Somerset House Chapel and the Topography of English Catholicism 2009).

Lucas Cranach, Melancholy, 1532, Oil on Panel, 51×97 cm, Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst

Angels played a special role in the visualization of invisible, spiritual and natural-philosophical processes. In the Paracelsian tradition, those who dealt with chemical processes were called astrales, that is, angelic mediators between the forces of heaven and earthly processes.

Angels were also referred to as virtutes, a term stemming from Aristotelian philosophy and often used in Galenic pathology (Laura Sangha, Incorporeal Substances: Discerning Angels in later Seventeenth-Century England 2012 and Alexandra Walsham, Invisible Helpers: Angelic Intervention in Post-Reformation England 2010).

As in John Dees Conversations with Angels, angels can be understood as direct references to fundamental concepts of natural philosophy (Michael Cole, Are Angels Allegories? 2015 and Deborah Harkness, John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature 1999).


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