Sunday, September 25, 2016

Michael the Archangel – Defender of the Faithful


Hubert Gerhard, St. Michael Overcoming the Devil,
German, 1588
Munich, Church of St. Michael


War broke out in heaven;
Michael and his angels battled against the dragon.
The dragon and its angels fought back,
but they did not prevail
and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.
The huge dragon, the ancient serpent,
who is called the Devil and Satan,
who deceived the whole world,
was thrown down to earth,
and its angels were thrown down with it.”

(Revelation 12:7-9)


Three great or "arch" angels are celebrated on September 29th: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. But this is only in recent decades. Prior to 1964 the day belonged to Michael alone.

Of the three archangels named in the Bible Michael is the one who has had the least contact with human beings. Where Gabriel and Raphael have acted in human history as divine messengers or healers, Michael has appeared only to visionaries, to the authors of the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation.

Andrea della Robbia, St. Michael
Italian, c.1475
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
His appearance is one of great power, terrifying even. He is the leader of the heavenly armies, the victor over the dragon, symbol of Satan and evil. He is the defender of Israel and, by extension, of Christianity. He is the angel who weighs the souls of the deceased in his finely balanced scales.




St. Michael,
German, 18th century
Bonn, University




Even his name, Mich-a-el, portrays his character. Its translation is ‘who is like God?’. It is a question and a challenge. It is the rallying cry of the angelic host in their battle with the rebel angels. It is also a rebuke to Satan's lie to Adam and Eve in Eden “You will be like gods” (Genesis 3:5). Expressed in Latin as “Quis ut Deus?” it is sometimes shown on Michael's armor or on his shield.

In spite of his elusiveness, his terrible presence, his aura of mystery, Michael has left his footprint on virtually the whole map of Europe from Skellig Michael in Ireland at the western edge of Europe to St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, Mont St. Michel in Normandy, to Boulevard St. Michel in Paris to Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome.




New York Police Department
Memorial Poster







He is a patron of the military and of police.  Indeed, it is Michael who is the angelic patron of the NYPD officers killed on September 11, 2001.


He is also a patron of both France and Germany. And, in the past, his feast of September 29th was known as Michaelmas. Once upon a time it was a holy day of obligation.1  

In the secular world to it was an extremely important day, as for instance, in the English calendar. One of the English ‘quarter days’, it was the day on which rents used to be due, court terms began and universities opened their academic year.




In art, Michael is primarily represented in three ways: as a member of the heavenly court, as the leader of the armies of Heaven and as the weigher of souls. Sometimes the types overlap.  Although these three are the main iconographic types of the images of St. Michael, there are several others.  Among these are:  St. Michael as patron of France and Michael as Worshiper.

Michael as a Member of the Heavenly Court

In Byzantine art, and later in the art of Eastern Christianity, Michael often appears in the dress of a member of the court of heaven, dressed as one would have been for the Imperial Byzantine court.

Saint Michael the Archangel
Bzyantine (Constantinople), c. 525-550
London, British Museum

St. John Chryostom, Emperor Nicophorus III and St. Michael
from Homilies of St. John Chrysostom
Byzantine (Constantinople), 1074-1078 or 1078-1081
 Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Coislin 79, fol. 2v

























Saint Michael the Archangel
from Pala d'Oro altarpiece
Byzantine (Constantinople), 1105
Venice, Basilica of San Marco

Madonna and Child with Saints Michael and Gabriel
Byzantine (Sicilian), 1180s
Monreale, Cathedral, Main Apse























Predominantly a theme of the earlier years, in which parts of Western Europe still looked to Byzantium, this theme of Michael as courtier mostly disappeared during the Middle Ages in the West and reappeared at the beginning of the Renaissance.  His satanic adversary appears only as a kind of attribute in these images. In these pictures, Michael is as likely to wear his armor, or at least parts of it, as he is to wear courtier's robes.

Guido Bigarelli, Saint Michael
Italian, 13th century
Pistoia, San Michele in Cioncio
Luca di Tomme, St. Michael
Italian, c.1360
Amiens, Musee de Picardie
























This theme seems to have been especially prominent in the decades just before and after the year 1500 in both Italy and the North.

Lorenzo da Viterbo, Madonna and Child
with St. Peter and St. Michael
Italian, 1472
Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica



Master of the Legend of St. Ursula
Madonna and Child with a Donor
Presented by St. Michael
Flemish, c.1480-1490
Private Collection



















Botticelli, Madonna and Child with Angels and Saints
(Pala di San Barnaba)
Italian, c.1488
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi





Domenico Ghirlandaio, Madonna and Child
in Glory with Saints
Italian, 1490-1496
Munich, Alte Pinakothek



















Jean Hey, Saint Michael and the King of France
 from Statuts de L'Ordre de Saint Michel
French (Moulins), 1493-1494
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 14363, fol. 3







Luca Signorelli. Assumption of the Virgin
with Saints Michael and Benedict
Italian, c.1493-1496
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art


Andrea Mantegna, Virgin of Victory
Italian, 1495-1496
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Perugino, Madonna and Child in Glory with Saints
Italian, 1495-1496
Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale



























Innocenzo da Imola, St. Bernard Presented
to the Madonna and Child by St. Michael
Italian, c.1500-1550
Chambery, Musee des Beaux-Arts
Garofalo, Madonna and Child with Saints
Italian, 1530-1532
Rome, Galleria Borghese
























His role as warrior is sometimes combined with his role in the heavenly court.

St. Michael subduing the dragon
French, c.1425-1550
Paris, Musee du Louvre

Cimabue, Michael from Madonna and Child Enthroned
with St. Francis and Four Angels (Detail)
Italian, 1278-1280
Assisi, Church of San Francesco, Lower Church























St. Catherine and St. Michael
from Life of St. Catherine
Dutch (s-Hertogenbosch), 1475-1500
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Neerlandais 129, fol. 1













Hans Memling, St. Michael
Flemish, c. 1479
London, Wallace Collection
























Master of the Legend of St. Ursula
St. Michael with a Donor
Flemish, 1480-1490
Bruges, Museum Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ter Potterie

Saints George, Michael and John the Baptist
German (Upper Rhine), c.1500-1525
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts





















Michael as Warrior and as General of the Heavenly Armies


Predominantly a theme of the Western Church, Michael appears most frequently as the armed warrior, clad in armor. 

Sometimes he is simply seen as the soldier, not involved in combat or shown in repose after his battle.

Saint Michael the Archangel
Byzantine (Constantinople),  1086
Venice, Basilica of San Marco, Treasury
Vincenzo Foppa, St. Michael
Italian, 1460
St. Petersburg, Hermitage Museum






















Piero della Francesca, St. Michael
Italian, 1469
London, National Gallery




Perugino, St. Michael
Italian, c.1499
London, National Gallery























Jean Bourdichon, St. Michael
from Grandes heures d'Anne de Bretagne
French (Tours), c.1503-1508
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9474, fol. 163v




Andrea del Sarto, Saints Michael and John Gualbert
Italian, 1528
Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi























But, he is most often seen in the act of combat against the dragon (symbol of Satan) or against a demon (again symbolic of Satan).  These images fall into two types.  The first, and earlier of the two, is that of single combat between Michael and his adversary.

Anonymous, St. Michael Overcoming the Dragon
French, c.1125-1150
Paris, Musee du Louvre

St. Michael Overcoming the Dragon
from a Psalter
German (Franconia), c. 1225-1250
Paris, Bibliotheque naationale de France
MS Latin 17961, fol. 62
St. Michael Overcoming the Dragon
 from the Liber floridus of Lambert de Saint-Omer
French (North French), c.1250-1275
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 8865, fol. 39



























St. Michael Overcoming the Dragon
from Vies des saints
French (Paris), 1325-1350
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 185, fol. 259v

Ambrogio Lorenzetti,
St. Michael Overcoming the Dragon
Italian, 1330-1335
Asciano, Museo d'Arte Sacra
















Giovanni di Benedetto and collaborators
St. Micheal Overcoming the Dragon
from Missal for use of Friars Minor
Italian (Milan), c.1385-1390
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 757, fol. 357v






Alabaster carving. St. Michael Overcoming Dragon
English, c.1430-1470
London, Victoria and Albert Museum
























Master of Marguerite of Orleans
St. Michael Overcoming the Dragon
from Hours of Marguerite d'Orleans
French (Rennes), c.1430
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 1156 B, fol. 165


St. Michael Overcoming the Dragon
from Hours of Louis of Savoy
French (Savoy), 1445-1460
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9473, fol. 166

Miguel Ximenez, St. Michael Overcoming the Dragon
Part of an altarpiece of the Pieta,
 St. Michael and St/ Catherine
Spanish, 1475-1485
Madrid, Museo del Prado


Anonymous, St. Michael Overcoming the Dragon
French, c..1500
Paris, Musee du Louvre

























Jean Bourdichon, St. Michael Overcoming the Dragon
from the Hours of Frederic of Aragon
French (Tours), 1501-1504
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de
MS Latin 10532, fol. 358

Gerard David, St. MIchael Overcoming the Demons
Flemish, c.1510
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
























Two of the most famous images of this single combat type are two paintings by Raphael (himself named after another of the archangels) done fifteen years apart.
Raphael, St. Michael Overcoming the Dragon
Italian, 1503
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Raphael, St. Micheal Overcoming the Demon
Italian, 1518
Paris, Musee du Louvre



The second Raphael painting is such a perfect representation of the battle that it became the model for many other pictures.

Guido Reni, St. Michael Overcoming Satan
Italian, 1635
Rome, S. Maria della Consolazione
Ignacio de Ries, St. Michael Overcoming Satan
Spanish, 1640s
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art


























Juan de Valdes Leal, St. Michael Overcoming Satan
Spanish, c. 1656
Madrid, Museo del Prado



Luca Giordano, St. Michael Overcoming Satan
Italian, 1666
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum






























Domenico Corvi, St. Michael Overcoming Satan
Italian, 1758
Rome, Santissima Trinita dei Monti






Eugene Delacroix, St. Michael Overcoming Satan
French, 1854-1861
Paris, Church of Saint-Sulpice



Emmanuel Fremiet, St. Michael Overcoming the Dragon
French, 1895
Paris, Musee d'Orsay


Anglican Cope, St. Michael Overcoming the Dragon
Design Possibly by Sir J. Ninian Comper
Embroidery by the Society of the Sisters of Bethany
English, c.1900
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts





















The second type of combat image is that of Michael as the general of the whole Host of Heaven.  These images are frequently known as "The Fall of the Rebel Angels".  These pictures tend to come from a later period than the images of Michael as courtier or as solo warrior.  

Boucicaut Master, Fall of the Rebel Angels
De Proprietatibus rerum by Barthelemy l'Anglais
French (Paris), 1400-1425
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 9141, fol. 17v


Spinello Aretino, St. Michael and the Heavenly Host
Italian, 1408-1410
London, National Gallery



















Master of Zafra, Fall of the Rebel Angels
Spanish, 1495-1500
Madrid, Museo del Prado



Domenico Beccafumi, Fall of the Rebel Angels
Italian, c.1528
Siena, San Niccolo al Carmine

























_Frans Floris, Fall of the Rebel Angels
Flemish, 1554
Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten



Peter Paul Rubens, Fall of Rebel Angels
Flemish, 1619-1623
Munich, Alte Pinakothek

























Peter Paul Rubens, Fall of the Rebel Angels
Flemish, 1620
Brussels, Koninklijke Museum voor Schoen Kunsten van Belgie



Michael as Prover of Souls

Last Judgment and Michael Weighing Souls
from Psaltar of St. Louis and of Blanche of Castille
French (Paris), ca.1225
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 1186, fol. 169v



At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince,
guardian of your people;
It shall be a time unsurpassed in distress
since the nation began until that time.
At that time your people shall escape,
everyone who is found written in the book.
Many of those who sleep
in the dust of the earth shall awake;
Some to everlasting life,
others to reproach and everlasting disgrace.

(Daniel 12:1-2)





It is through his position of warrior and defender of heaven that Michael is the angel who examines the souls of the dead, weighing them in balance scales to determine their ultimate destination.  This action is usually, although not always, shown as taking place in the context of the Last Judgment.


St. Michael Weighing Souls
from the Shaftesbury Psalter
English, 1225-1250
London, British Library
MS Lansdowne 383, fol.168v


The Syon Cope
English, 1300-1320
London, Victoria and Albert Museum


























St. Michael Judging Souls (Evil Souls)
 from Pelerinage de l'ame
by Guillaume de Degulleville
French (Rennes), 1425-1450
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 376, fol. 90v















St. Michael Judging Souls (Good Souls)
from Pelerinage de l'ame by Guillaume de Degulleville
French (Rennes), 1425-1450
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 376, fol. 91












Rogier Van der Weyden, St. Michael Weighing Souls
Center Panel of the Last Judgment Altarpiece
Flemish, 1446-1452
Beaune, Musee de l'Hotel Dieu











Hans Memling, St. Michael Weighing Souls
 Center Panel of the Last Judgment Altarpiece
Flemish, 1467-1471
Gdansk, Muzeum Narodowe


Biagio d'Antonio Tucci, St. Michael Weighing Souls
Italian, 1476
Avignon, Musee du Petit Palais

Juan de la Abadia, St. Michael Weighing Souls
Spanish, c.1490
Barcelona, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya























Two additional groups of images of St. Michael stand out.  These are:

Michael as Patron of France

Images of Michael as patron of France center around the apparitions to St. Joan of Arc.  Saint Joan reported that her task of freeing France from the English was announced to her through several apparitions of three saints, Michael, Margaret (of Antioch) and Catherine (of Alexandria).  The subject has been most frequent in the last 200 or so years.
Hermann Anton Stilke, Apparition of Saints Catherine
and Michael to Joan of Arc
German, 1843
Saint Petersburg, Hermitage Museum


Jules Bastien-Lepage, Joan of Arc
French, 1879
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
This has been and remains one of the most popular paintings in the Met.
The three saints are presented as vaporous figures in the upper left corner.
Only Michael, clad in golden armor, is easily seen.

Eugene Samuel Grasset, Joan of Arc and Saint Michael
Design for pair of windows
French, 1893
Paris, Musee d'Orsay
At this point in time Joan was not yet a saint.  She was canonized in 1920.

Rene Marie Castaing, Joan of Arc Window
French, 1900-1925
Pau, Musee des Beaux-Arts
Here Michael occupies the central position among the
three saints in the upper portion of the left side.
Gaston Bussiere, Joan of Arc, the Predestined
French, 1909
Macon, Musee des Ursulines



























Michael As Worshiper

In these images Michael appears, not as a courtier or a warrior or a general, but as a member of the faithful, affirming by his actions that, like us, he too is a created being, acknowledging God as the Supreme Being and source of life for His creations.  Michael is sometime depicted alone, but in most instances he is depicted as one of a group.  The group may consist of other angels, especially of other archangels, or it may be made up of other saints, indeed it may be the entire court of heaven.  However, unlike more generalized pictures depicting the heavenly court, in the pictures I am offering for your attention, Michael is conspicuously positioned and frequently shown in his armor.
Jean Colombe and collaborators,
Christ and the Virgin Enthroned in Heaven
from Hours of Anne of France
French (Bourges), 1473
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M677, fol. 236r
Michael can be seen standing at the far left.

St. Michael, Archangels and Seraphim in Prayer
from Prayer Book
French (Paris), 1485-1495
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS H.3, fol. 157r



























Federico Zuccaro, Archangels Adoring the Trinity
Italian, c.1594
Rome, Church of the Gesu, Chapel of the Angels



Philippe van Mallery, Saints Michael,
Augustine, John Chrysostom and Norbert
Adoring the Eucharist in a Monstance
Flemish, 1608 - before 1639
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum



























Johann-Heinrich Schoenfeld, Holy Trinity
Adored by Angels and Saints
German, 1640
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Louis LeNain, St. Michael Dedicating
His Weapons to the Virgin and Child
French, c.1640
Nevers, Church of Saint-Pierre

Carlo Maratti, Saints Michael, Luke, Julian, Peter
and Paul Adoring the Holy Face
Italian, c.1670
Monterotondo (Lazio), Cathedral,
Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene

Corrado Giacinto, Adoration of the Trinity
Italian, 1744
Rome, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme















Louis Comfort Tiffany, Victory in Heaven Window
American, 1895-1920
New York, Episcopal Church of St. Michael

Louis Comfort Tiffany, St. Michael
Central Figure of the Victory in Heaven Window
American, 1895-1920
New York, Episcopal Church of St. Michael
For me, this magnificent angel has a personal side. September 29th is my birthday. And, had I been a boy, I would have been named Michael in his honor and in memory of my mother’s baby brother who died at age 2. As it was, I was named, Margaret, in honor of both my grandmothers. However, I have not forgotten Michael; he is one of my own patrons and the source of my confirmation name of Michelle.



We would do well to honor Michael with the prayer that used to be recited by everyone at the end of every Mass:

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who roam about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

© M. Duffy, 2011. 2016

______________________________________________________
1.  Holweck, Frederick. "St. Michael the Archangel." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 26 Sept. 2016 
<http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10275b.htm>.