The Angelus & the birth of an Idea
Updated: Oct 6, 2018
"Pour forth, we beseech You, O Lord, Your Grace into our hearts; that as we have known the incarnation of Christ, your Son by the message of an angel, so by His passion and cross we may be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ, our Lord." The Angelus Prayer (Catholic Church)
The Angelus (L'Angélus) is an oil painting by French painter Jean-François Millet, completed between 1857 and 1859.
The painting depicts two peasants bowing in a field over a basket of potatoes to say a prayer, the Angelus, that together with the ringing of the bell from the church on the horizon marks the end of a day's work. Millet was commissioned by the American would-be painter and art collector Thomas Gold Appleton, who never came to collect it. The painting is famous today for driving the prices for artworks of the Barbizon school up to record amounts in the late 19th century.
At first, the painting was interpreted as a political statement, with Millet viewed as a socialist in solidarity with the workers. While the painting expresses a profound sense of religious devotion, and became one of the most widely reproduced religious paintings of the 19th century, with prints displayed by thousands of devout householders across France, Millet painted it from a sense of nostalgia rather than from any strong religious feeling. According to Karine Huguenaud, "There is, however, no religious message to the painting: Millet was simply concerned with portraying a ritualised moment of meditation taking place as the dusk rolls in." In 1864 Belgian minister Jules Van Praët exchanged it for Millet’s Bergère avec son troupeau (Shepherd and his flock) and commented dryly, “What can I say? It is clearly a masterpiece, but faced with these two peasants, whose work is interrupted by prayer, everyone thinks they can hear the nearby church bell tolling, and in the end, the constant ringing just became tiresome”.
My outtake from Millet came from Dali and Van Gogh actually. I was so impressed as a child by their interpretations of Millet, that I had to use the notion of the Angelus as well, as it fit so well with my concept of social acceptance.
I did not wish to copy either of my favorite artists. I wanted to do something original. So I sat with my friends, and we actually discussed what the idea of the paining meant to us. I have to say I loved the results, as none of them differed emotionally for me from the original works, and none were 1:1 copies of the original idea, but a group effort interpretation of a painting they only met a few hours for the first time prior to the shoot.