INESSA KALABEKOVA

Research paper – Dance of the Angels by Fra Angelico

“The purpose of art is to inspire, uplift, and ignite the imagination.” Fra Angelico

I am currently researching Fra Angelico’s altar painting fresco titled “The Dance of the Angels” or “The Dance of the Blessed,” which is a central piece within his portrayal of “The Last Judgment.” This artwork is captivating for its multifaceted portrayal: Saints and Apostles are depicted ascending to join Christ on the judgment seat, overseeing the resurrection of all humanity—both righteous and sinful. Angels play a pivotal role in guiding the blessed towards the heavenly city, adorned in garments adorned with stars and crowned with garlands. As they approach the holy gates, they reach out and clasp hands in pairs, symbolizing their entry into divine grace.

Interestingly, the term ‘church’ finds its origins in the Anglo-Saxon root “circe,” which is linked to the Greek goddess “Circe,” daughter of “Helios,” the Roman Sun-god from Greek mythology. Initially tied to pagan Celtic worship, the concept of ‘church’ gradually evolved into a fundamental pillar of Christian religious practice and community life.

What fascinates me is the parallel between early Christian prayer circles and ancient round dances. These rituals, reflecting cosmic order, often encircled altars to emulate celestial movements such as the zodiac or the planets orbiting the sun (Backman, 1952).

Early Christian texts abound with references to sacred rituals like round or ring dances. G.R.S. Mead discusses the concept of a sacred dance—a celestial hymn or chorus of utmost sanctity—dating back to the earliest days of Christianity.

Bishop Basilius of Caesarea beautifully describes angels and the faithful “dancing the dance of the Angels around God,” bridging earthly and heavenly realms through spiritual and cosmic harmony (Backman, 1952, 24-25).

In essence, Fra Angelico’s “The Dance of the Angels” not only portrays a celestial narrative within “The Last Judgment” but also resonates with ancient traditions of sacred dances, symbolizing humanity’s spiritual journey towards divine unity and eternal peace. This research underscores the profound symbolism and spiritual significance embedded in Fra Angelico’s artistic expression.

Books:

Temple Mysticism: An Introduction, by Margaret Barker

Nibley, Hugh (1979) “The Early Christian Prayer Circle,” BYU Studies Quarterly: Vol. 19: Iss. 1, Article

History of the dance in art and education. Authors:Richard G. Kraus, Sarah Chapman Hilsendager, Brenda Dixon Gottschild.

A Time to Dance: Symbolic Movement in Worship Paperback – November 1, 2009 by Margaret Fisk Taylor

Images:

Pre Archaic dance circle, 9th c. BC. Olympia. Right – 5th-3rd c. BC circle of dancers, with avlos player inside.

Terracotta statuette of a ring dance, Cypriot, 6th century BCE.

Terracotta statuette of a woman from a ring dance, Cypriot, 5th century BCE

 

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