Friday, June 04, 2010

Seraphim Are Red, Cherubim Are Blue

Further to yesterday's posting:

Whenever I look at Jean Fouquet’s Madonna and Child Surrounded by Angels, I wonder about the host of blue and red figures crowding in on the throne. I’ve finally taken the time to try to satisfy my curiosity, and this is what I've learned thus far:

1. Cherubim support the Throne of God and represent the Presence of His Glory.

2. Seraphim surround the Heavenly Throne as fiery guardians.

3. Cherubim and seraphim were not counted among the seven choirs of angels in the Jewish Bible, nor were they mentioned in the angelic hierarchy during the early centuries of Christianity; but they were generally believed to exist.

4. It was Pope Gregory the Great (540- 604) who established nine angelic orders divided into three choirs, with cherubim and seraphim populating the highest choir.

5. Angels were believed to be fire, breath, spirit, and radiance. Biblical descriptions of these “beings of fire and wind” were immaterial, unsubstantial.

6. Thus, a certain degree of imaginative license was given to artists who attempted to visualize these abstract creatures, and by the time of the Renaissance, artists were portraying cherubim and seraphim as pudgy, pink-cheeked, winged infants … which today are often referred to as “putti”.

7. Artists traditionally clothed cherubim in blue, while seraphim are clothed in red, and I surmise that these colors symbolize the wind and fire of their immateriality.

By the way: The word putto is the singular form of putti, the Italian word for "small boy" or "child". The Italian was derived from the Latin putus, meaning "boy" or "child”. In modern Italian, putto now only signifies a cherubic, winged little boy figure in art, as in this famous duo by Raphael.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for doing the research! Excellent analysis! I've wondered about this since I first saw the painting, oh, maybe 20 years ago.

But, I'd also be interested in hearing more about Fouquet's style. It's so very unlike others of the era. Or, was it just this one picture?