Comparing Angels – Art History Essay
I am comparing ‘The Angel of the North’ (Figure1) by Anthony Gormley and Jacob Epstein’s sculpture of ‘Jacob and the Angel’ (Figure 2). Evan though I find both pieces inspiring I prefer Gormley’s work as it is a monumental piece. ‘The Angel of the North’ (1994- 8) is positioned in Gateshead. It stands more than 20 metres from the ground and is made from nearly 200 tonnes of steel. It has a wingspan of 54 metres and they are tilted at a 3.5º angle to which Gormley describes as “a sense of embrace”. On the other hand the term embrace is used differently in Epsteins piece, ‘Jacob and the angel’ (1940-1), where the sculpture depicts a strangely ambiguous embrace between the two male figures. This piece is carved out of alabaster and has the dimension of 214 x 110 x 92cm. It is currently being showcased at the Tate Liverpool. There is an obvious similarity in these pieces with the use of an angel to help depict different meanings. The portrayal of mythological creatures is nothing new within art as angels have been used in many artworks and paintings from the early nineteenth century, for example Bouguereau’s “Birth of Venus” painted in 1879 (Figure 3). They can aid in depicting religious stories or help show the escape from harsh reality and industrialised society to a world of fantasy and innocence. Artists may gain inspiration from literature, legends and old folk tales. In the Bible, the angel obviously possesses a spiritual nature, but it also assumes physical characteristics. The definition of an angel is “a spiritual being believed to act as an attendant, agent, or messenger of God, conventionally represented in human form with wings and a long robe”. Jacob Epstein (1880 – 1959) has taken his position as one of the great figures of contemporary art. His work, acclaimed and recognized, has been placed in the most important museums and there are few questions on its right to be there. Born in America, Epstein worked in a bronze foundry by day, and studied sculpture and modeling by night. He later arrived in the UK in 1905 and became a British Citizen in 1911. While here Epstein created many works of art, but was best known for his sculptures even though he tried his hand at drawing and watercolour. He created ‘Jacob and the Angel’ in 1940 while the Second World War was taking place. During this time Epstein made a lot of sculptures in reference to the Bible. I feel as if he tried to look towards religious beliefs to help him and others through the difficult period. During the 1930’s Epstein re-read the book of Genesis and painted a series of watercolour images based upon the Old Testament. In 1932 he created a watercolour entitled ‘Jacob Wrestling’ which was included in his 1932 exhibition at Redfern Gallery along with a similar illustration of the same subject, which was for Moshe Oyved’s Book of Affinity (1933). The Biblical references in his art may have fascinated him due to a personal significance, which in this case Epstein’s first name was Jacob. The story of Jacob and the Angel has derived from the Book of Genesis (Chapter 32, Verses 24 – 32). In accordance to this Biblical episode, Jacob was made to wrestle with his opponent throughout the night and in the morning was then blessed by the angel as he refused to abandon the struggle. Only when the opponent revealed himself as a messenger from God, Jacob showed his gratitude by saying, “I have seen god face to face and so my life is preserved”. This piece was created just before the Abstract Impressionism Movement. During the 1940’s other artists based their work on freedom. Which is fitting as the world struggled throughout the war. Epstein’s work played heavy influence on Henry Moore as similarities can be drawn from them (Figure 4) as both artists made a sculpture titled “Madonna and Child”. Where as Epstein himself was influenced by Michelangelo’s Sculptures (Figure 5). In comparison to other pieces of art by...
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