Angel with a Spear and Shield

    Altiplano, Peru, Seventeenth Century

    Angel with a Spear and Shield, Altiplano, Peru, Seventeenth Century
    Oil on fabric, 64 ½ x 48 ½ inches (168.8 x 123.2 cm)
    Jay I. Kislak Collection of the Early Americas, Exploration and Navigation, MDC PC 2020.3.9

    The remarkable paintings of angels created in the Viceroyalty of Peru display highly, original iconography, beautiful garments of lace and brocade, jewels, feathered hats and wings, halberds, and shields. Their fancy clothing derived from that of criollo and Andean nobles and aristocrats. While inscriptions on many of these paintings give us the names of the angels, the identity of others may be suggested only by their costumes and accessories. This angel, with colorful wings and a red cloak, as well as billowing sleeves, a short skirt, and stockings that resemble Spanish military clothing combined with aristocratic garments, resembles similar depictions designated as the Archangel Michael. As the leader of the heavenly hosts and protector of Christians against the devil, Michael appears, as here, as a winged warrior with a plumed helmet and a shield, ready to fight against the powers of darkness and the armies of Lucifer.

    Soldier angels enjoyed widespread popularity throughout the Altiplano of Peru and Bolivia, perhaps because they captured the imagination of the indigenous people searching for protection, who may also have identified them with the Andean birds and winged warriors from the pre-Hispanic pantheon that were seen as mediators between this world and the spirit realm. In the Christian tradition, angels are considered messengers of God, who serve as intermediaries between Heaven and Earth. Among the highest-ranking angels, archangels have authority over other angels. According to several religious traditions, God created seven archangels to fulfill specific purposes. Each has a special duty, such as bearing messages, providing protection, healing, or guiding souls. Their portrayals in Viceregal art include specific attributes associated with their roles in Catholic liturgy.

    Prints by Flemish engraver Hieronymous (Jerome) Wierix depicting the seven archangels—who are enumerated in the apocryphal Book of Enoch—may have circulated throughout the Andes in the seventeenth century and inspired the paintings. European prints were widespread in the Americas because they were cost-effective and easily distributed. The attire, names, and poses of Andean angels, however, separate such depictions from their sources in European prints, making them specifically American.

    A wide variety of paintings of angels, uniquely interpreted by indigenous artists in local workshops, were sold throughout the Viceroyalty. Some canvases feature angels holding harquebuses (known as angeles arcabuceros), early muzzle-loaded firearms, instead of the swords or staffs traditionally wielded by martial angels, such as those in the two examples in the Jay I. Kislak Collection.

    Exhibited: Culture and Change in the Early Americas, Kislak Center, Miami Dade College, May 20, 2018–January 31, 2021.

    Photo by Lynton Gardiner. © Kislak Center at MDC.