Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Apkallu, and other beings

The British Museum, meticulously truthful and scientific, say that they don't know exactly what this being is, and particularly not why it, or, rather, he, is holding a deer and a branch in this posture. (Room 7-8: Assyria: Nimrud). Below is my own photo, taken last week. The black border helps, but their shot is better lit.

Bas-Relief of a winged guardian

But, they continue, it "may be the supernatural creature known as an apkallu." Its job was to guard an entrance to the throne room of Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 883-859 BC) at his palace in Nimrud. I think that when whoever wrote down Genesis originally wrote it down, he probably imagined that the angel guarding the gateway to Paradise looked a lot more like this (or, quite possibly, like this) than, say, Michelangelo thought angels looked.

Despite their lack of beards, however, Michelangelo's angels are clearly male. Perhaps he found female bodies unpleasing, but I think female angels are generally rare in Western art, until the 19th Century, and never on guard duty. The jobs of warrior and messenger were not for women; Victorian female angels do exist, but they are nameless musicians or mourners, like houris without the fun. Anyway, male or not, I have never ever seen an angel in the art of Western Europe represented with a beard. Counter-examples in Comments, please.

Michelangelo's opinions on women were presumably not shared by the sculptor of this dignified marble relief of Sarasvati, 'Vina-pustak dharini' or bearer of the musical instrument (vina). This also is my own picture, it's a pity about the reflections. Theirs here.

Marble deep relief of Sarasvati

A benign Jain goddess associated with knowledge, music and learning, she is now venerated as patroness of DJs*. From Malwa, central India, early 11th century AD, room 33. Presumably she could fly if she wished, but she is neither guard nor messenger, and requires no wings. Her breasts are perfectly level, her hips sway with impossible freedom and fluidity, her feet are firmly rooted in the earth.

[*I made up the bit about the DJs.]

And with that, let's watch Detlef and Melina, who have been languishing in my drafts file for some time, getting mixed up with all sorts of strange company.


Anonymous said...

detlef - ow cool is he. totally unrushed and sure of his dance.

is he local?

ghost said...

Da Vinci was up for female angels :o)

as was BotticielliBeards seem to be the province of God and Christ, possibly to avoid confusion.

Elizabeth Brinton said...

Hice post, I was really excited about the patroness of DJs unitl I realized you were bs-ing us. Well I think we could adopt that one though?

Elizabeth Brinton said...

I meant NICE post....

msHedgehog said...

@Anon - Relatively. They're based in a place called Saarbrücken - about 5 or 6 hours from here by train (assuming they're ever at home). Just past France. It takes longer to get to Inverness. But you can check the website for the schedule.

@ghost - all those look like boys to me.

@Elizabeth - I have no idea what the Jains would think about that, but they're very keen on libraries. It seemed kind of obvious to me, and there appears to be at least one group of female DJs who name themselves after her. The Britannica article mentions "artists and performers of all kinds" so I don't think my interpretation is too much of a stretch.

ghost said...

Testing a theory...

is thismale or female?

(I can't quite bring myself to start googling for angels with boobs)

msHedgehog said...

Often hard to tell with Leonardo, but here the hairstyle includes a plait, signalling definitely female. The angels had male hairstyles and obviously-absent boobs. I don't think you'll find may pre-Victorian angels with boobs even if you do google; or any at all with more than an A-cup. But I could be wrong.

ghost said...

Fair 'nuff. It occurs to me that the Catholic Church would have held sway at that time


"Angels are the invisible spirits that God created before He created the physical universe. They are pure spirits, having no body whatsoever. They do not have wings, despite the fact that artists usually portray them that way. The wings represent their swiftness in the physical world. They are often portrayed as children, to convey their innocence."

Which would also explain the androgeny.

However I'm pretty sure it isn't mentioned in the current Catechism and also doesn't explain the whole Nephilim debacle...