Although the angels are spiritual beings and invisible creatures, art has provided them with a body so people could recognize their concrete activity as agents of God.
So they are everywhere as statues or in basrelief, in paintings or in frescoes but usually, they can easily pass unnoticed among other masterpieces. Let’s find out where they have landed in Lucca and around!
The Archangel Saint Michael
Sometimes I just find myself wondering: how many stories could he tell? How many and so different events has he been observing and witnessing in all these centuries from up there?
You might feel a little bit dizzy, the first time you will see Saint Michael elevated and imposing church facade. No doubt the impressive decoration of the columns, the arches, the edges, and the capitals will likely become one of your best memories of Lucca.
However, the steady presence of the archangel as a 4mt high marble-bronze statue is an iconic landmark and it deserves some attention.
In the divine hierarchy, the three archangels: Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael are not only winged messengers, but they have a leading role for the other angels and each one has its own features and power.
Especially in Western culture, Michael is often represented more as a warrior, holding in his hand a sword or a spear to kill a dragon-snake demon creature, and likewise is the Lucchese version of him. In addition, in this case, he wears the noble byzantine outfit with a loros: a long and narrow stole wrapped around the shoulders.
It is even richly ornated with precious stones, so it means you have many chances to see the famous glimmer. The legend says it is just a ring with a diamond.
Do not forget to ask me when and where in the square you can catch this illusion-make-a-wish event!
With a closer look, I am sure you will notice some more representations of the angel in the church, but you should also go inside to see the white smaller statue preserved on the second altar on your right. This one is so special and legendary, too.
The demons, that Saint Michael slays are some kinds of natural disaster, plague, and malaria. So, in 1665 the angel appeared to the Lucchese bishop, Bernardino Puccinelli, in the famous sanctuary in Gargano, in Apulia.
He asked the bishop to collect the stones there in the cave and to give them to the people as protection against the disease. The plague was spreading around, but many souls were not infected or they survived thanks to the blessed stones.
Later, the bishop commissioned two statues, as a sign of gratitude: one is still in the piazza where Saint Michael appeared, and the second one is in Lucca and it was made with the stone of a grotto in the nearby of the angel vision.
The guardian angels and their oratory
Maybe some of you readers have been in this small tucked-away oratory for a concert. It was closed for restoration for some years and it eventually reopened in June 2020.
Not far from the must-see Guinigi tower, you have to search for a very unassuming grey facade on the parallel street called Via dell’Angelo Custode (the guardian angel’s street).
Immediately after the Catholic Reformation in 1563, there was an evolution for these winged representatives of God: they also became people guardians. It means that each one of us has been assigned an angel to help us in case of danger and to direct us toward salvation. In Lucca, this worship was embraced by a layman: Bonaventura Guasperini.
He dedicated his life to underprivileged and orphan kids providing them with support and education. Later thanks to donations, he could found the Guardian Angel Congregation and even more this spectacular baroque oratory, completed in 1638.
You will not be disappointed to step inside this room covered in frescoes and eight paintings. It is easy to imagine that the angels are the protagonists and they are represented in many different ways and biblical episodes such as with Agar, Jacob, and Jerome but also in a local way with the Holy face crucifix.
Do not miss here Saint Michael portrayed judging the souls to send to Hell. Love it!
You will realize that the decorations of artificial windows, columns, balustrades, flower garlands, and fake perspectives by Gian Domenico Lombardi are meant to create a theatrical illusion and setting.
People had to be amazed and involved. Do you think the artist reached his goal? Before leaving, observe with attention the two white angels above the main altar and try to understand how their lower body, their legs are so tridimensional…
What if Leonardo…?
Maybe it will remain one of those many unsolved art mysteries, but it is still fascinating to spend some time thinking about if this terracotta angel, representing the archangel Gabriel, was made by the Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci?
The first idea came in 1999 to Carlo Pedretti, an art professor at the University of California in Los Angeles. This last restoration focused on preserving the art piece and on searching for hints to support the theory. The angel has just returned home to the San Gennaro church, on Lucca hills.
You might ask for a detour there while you are winetasting in the area.
Last year, during Christmas time, the statue made a stop in the city for a temporary exhibit, so I enjoyed taking some curious tourists to have a look at Gabriel.
According to traditional iconography, he is the most important herald among the angels. He delivers messages from God to the people, but he also translates them and makes them understandable.
He reveals births, events, and visions. Very often, artists have tried to represent him while he is landing on his feet, bending his knees in a sign of reverence.
His gaze and facial expression, his curly hair, and his clothing could have been the first elements to identify Leonardo’s style. However, the revealing moment for the restorers was when they started to reflect on the movement.
Traditionally, the Angel has just landed, he is turning to face the Virgin Mary offering her a lily flower with his right hand. Instead on the statue, the hole for the flower is on his left hand!
With that same hand, he is holding up the mantel, and probably the right hand is in the act of blessing. Furthermore, the same use of the right/left hand is in the famous painting Annunciation by Leonardo at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
The terracotta Gabriel has still to complete the twist of his upper body, the puff on his right hip is telling us that the movement is about to happen, it is an act in potential.
This sensitivity to the movement, this attempt to express it, could just belong to the great genius of Leonardo.
I hope you enjoyed this post chasing the angels with me in Lucca and around… let me know if you spot others!