The Angel with the Book, from the Cloisters Apocalypse by Unknown artist

Unknown artist

The Angel with the Book, from the Cloisters Apocalypse, c.1330, Tempera, gold, silver, and ink on parchment, 308 x 230 mm, The Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Cloisters Collection, 1968, 68.174, fol. 16r, www.metmuseum.org

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A Christ-like Angel

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The angel John sees descending from heaven in Revelation 10 is a new character in the story (‘another mighty angel’). Yet he is also surprisingly familiar. His sun-like face and legs like pillars of fire recall the Son of Man in Revelation’s opening vision (feet ‘like burnished bronze’, face ‘like the sun shining at full strength’; 1:15–16). His lion-like voice evokes Christ the slaughtered Lamb, who is also ‘the Lion of the tribe of Judah’ (5:5). For this reason, many patristic and medieval commentators interpreted this passage as of Jesus. An alternative possibility is this mighty angel is not Christ himself, but Christ’s own angel, acting as his messenger and mediator.

This image from the fourteenth-century Cloisters Apocalypse, one of many Anglo-Norman illuminated Apocalypse manuscripts produced in England and France from the mid-thirteenth century onwards, explores the ambiguity. The angel, standing at centre, dominates the page. A red cross is visible in his halo, a clear symbol of Christ. Yet, unlike images of Jesus elsewhere in Cloisters (e.g. fol. 6r, depicting Revelation 5:7–14, or fol. 38r, illustrating Revelation 22:10–21), or the bearded angel of Revelation 10 in the earlier Abingdon Apocalypse (c.1270–75; British Library Add. MS 42555, fol. 27v), he is unshaven. He is both like Christ, and unlike Christ.

The angel’s role as mediator between heaven and earth, between Christ and John, is also effectively conveyed by his posture. His raised right hand, by which he swears ‘by him who lives for ever and ever’ (10:6), is positioned in parallel to the cloud extending heavenwards. With his left hand, he offers the little book or ‘little scroll’ to the human John. Thus all three stages in the chain of revelation—God/Christ, his angel, his servant John (1:1)—are presented visually. Christ has delivered his revelation through his angelic mediator. His earthly prophet can now proclaim its bitter-sweet message.


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