Wings in Christian Art

An exhibition curated by Olivia Rataezyk ’24, the Blick-Harris Study Collection Curatorial Intern, Fall 2021.

March 25 – May 13, 2022

This exhibition examines a selection of objects featuring wings as part of their iconography. These objects, from the Blick-Harris Study Collection, are organized by material, allowing visitors to engage with the breadth of wing imagery and its varied functions. Generally, the materials used are connected to the purpose of the object; for example, heavy metal objects, such as the silver censer, have ceremonial purposes during services, while lighter materials are generally intended for daily personal use.

By exhibiting this collection, I aim to educate visitors about the long tradition of wings in Christian art, and how these meanings vary – or stay the same – based on things such as context and time period. I also want the audience to pay attention to meanings dependent on context; for example, if meaning changes depending on where a symbol is found. This exhibition is intended to prompt deeper thoughts on objects with which the audience will have a wide range of familiarity, from daily interactions with Christianity to a complete lack of awareness. Additionally, I aim to spark appreciation for the material beauty of these objects. Many of the pieces in this collection were used daily when first created, and as a result have blurred the lines between high art and craft. However, a combination of age (Bone Fragment With Angel dates from Byzantium, for example) and recontextualizing these pieces in a gallery setting sets them up to be appreciated and thought about as art pieces.

I would like to thank professors Blick, Taronas, Hostetler, and Courtois de Viscose for serving as my curatorial committee and advising my work this semester.

Censer with Greek Inscription
Greek, 1815
7.5 x 6 inches
Blick-Harris Study Collection, 2020.358
Pendant Cross
Ethiopian, 18th–19th century
5 x 3.75 inches
Blick-Harris Study Collection, 2020.40
Bone Fragment with an Angel
Roman, 4th century
2.125 x 1.563 inches
Blick-Harris Study Collection, 2020.149
Seal With Victory Holding A Cross
Byzantine, 5th century
0.67 x 0.62 inches
Blick-Harris Study Collection, 2020.137

This seal, stamped with Nike – the Greek goddess of victory – served multiple purposes. It was functional as a seal, of course, but beyond that, it may also have served as a protective amulet. Depending on the time of this seal’s production, Nike’s imagery could be representative of an angel celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. Originally, however, Nike was a pagan goddess, and her presence on this seal would indicate Christ’s victory over death. In the case that this does show an angel and not Nike, this seal would also function as a protective amulet of a guardian angel. In addition, it would have been used to sign and seal important documents, which makes this an identifying object for its original owner.
Processional Cross
Ethiopian, date unknown
Brass with copper rivets
13.813 x 8.25 inches
Blick-Harris Study Collection, 2020.27

Crosses such as this one play a major role in Ethiopian Orthodox services. Mounted on poles during the service, they are used in the blessing of holy water, the congregation, and the four corners of the earth. They also play a role in the sacraments. Additionally, during open-air services taking place on holidays, these crosses are adorned with brightly colored fabric. These fabrics are often looped through the lower arms of the cross; despite looking like a handle, these arms are not meant to be used as such. Their intricate geometric designs contribute to their striking appearance.
European, 18th–19th century
Paint on paper
painting, 2.688 x 2 inches; frame, 8.5 x 10.625 inches
Blick-Harris Study Collection, 2020.49
Icon with Jesus Christ, the Angel of Blessed Silence
Russian, ca. 1800
Metal alloy and enamel
5 13/16 x 5 1/16 x 5/16 inches
Blick-Harris Study Collection, 2020.331

This icon is representative of a larger tradition within Eastern Orthodoxy, likely this object’s culture of origin. Traditionally painted with tempera on wood, this one is quite ornate, instead being made of enamel and metal alloy. Pieces like this followed strict traditional templates, and would be passed down through generations. Icons function as more than just mere decoration; they are spiritual objects which are involved with worship and rituals in the home.
Parchment Scroll
Ethiopian, date unknown
Paint on parchment
6 7/8 x 3 7/8 in. (17.5 x 9.8 cm)
Blick-Harris Study Collection, 2020.208

Scrolls like this were created as a way to protect and heal those for whom they were created. Traditionally, a scroll depicting guardian angels and talismans would match the height of the recipient; the diminutive length of the object on display suggests that it may have been ripped, meaning it may have been ripped, as is visible on the bottom edge. Although they were meant to be portable, they could offer head-to-toe protection. These scrolls were created in rituals with the local church that often garnered criticism, since they did not follow traditional Christian beliefs and instead blended indigenous beliefs with more recently introduced Christian practices.
Wood Carving Depicting the Annunciation
Dutch, 16th century
12.75 x 11 inches
Blick-Harris Study Collection, 2015.182
Pendant Cross Reliquary
Russian, 17th century
Gilded silver
4 x 5 inches
Blick-Harris Study Collection, 2020.16

Olivia Rataezyk ’24 is a biology major and art history minor from Seattle, Washington.