For centuries paintings have portrayed wings on all different kinds of creatures in order to get different messages across. Wing change the way that people look at a painting, from just a portrait to something more compelling. The representation of creatures with wings change the picture to be viewed as mythological sean rather than something seen in an everyday experience. The wings that are borrowed from animals are often the wings of majestic or powerful birds, but sometimes the are taken from other things such as bugs, or butterflies. Some wings are portrayed as colorful, while others are dull, or static. The type of wing that is portrayed can often give a clue to what type of creature is being represented. However, the wings do not always tell the whole story of what is actually going on in the painting. In many paintings, angles are portrayed with wings, while gods, or goddesses are not. Cupid however, is a god that is often portrayed as having wings.There has become an idea that there are certain creatures, real or mythical, that do and do not have wings, and have become the norm for those creatures. The representation of wings have changed over the centuries, and different types of wings come to mean different things.
Dora Wheeler, Fairy in Irises, 1888
Watercolor, gouache, and graphite on off-white think wood pulp wove card, MET Museum 2002.355.4
At first glance this painting would appear to be a depiction of an angel in the midst irises. However, from the title we know that his is not an angel, but a fairy. It is almost natural to assume that this would be an angel because the wings resemble those of a bird, rather than an insect, which tend to be what is associated with fairies more often. Unlike many other paintings we see of creatures with wings, this fairies wings are at rest almost tucked away, rather than out stretched. These wings at rest, make the painting to be more static, rather than full of movement. Helped by the body posture, the wings help bring a feeling of nostalgia to the painting.
Gustave Moreau, Oedipus and the Sphinx, French, Paris 1826-1898
Oil on Canvas, MET Museum 21.134.1
It is clear that this painting is a painting of a mythological story. For those that know the story of Oedipus, it is easy to tell that this is the moment when he faces the sphinx and salves the riddle. The wings on the sphinx are a focal point in this painting. The wings cause this sean to be more dynamic rather than static. Rather than the sphinx resting her wings, she has them stretched up, as if either having just come to rest, or ready to take off. The sphinx's wings cause us to ask, at what point of Oedipus' meeting with her is taking place, before or after he salved the riddle.
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, An Eagle with Wings Spread, Italian, Venice 1696 – 1770 Madrid, Charcoal, highlighted with white Chalk, on blue paper, MET Museum 37.165.109
Like many painting and drawing of creatures with wings, the wings that are portrayed of often spread. It is seldom that a piece of art has a mythological creature with wing resting, or tucked away. In this drawing Giovanni too shows, not a mythological creature with it's wings spread but rather a large and powerful bird. The spread wings helps to bring a since of movement to the picture. However, it is not clear which point of flight this drawing is depicting.
In The Manner of Albrecht Dürer, Bittern's Wings: Study Showing both sides, German, Nuremberg 1515,
Watercolor on vellum, MET Museum 19.184
To study the way that a wing is shaped and works, is the best way to be able to portray wings that look natural, and like they belong to whatever creature is being portrayed with wings in a painting. Understanding the shape, dimensions, and even the anatomy of wings help make a painting believable. Even without a body, or strong detail, it is clear that this painting is of wings. By studying just the wings of a bird, it can help to create a sean that is far more believable to the audience.
Sergry Chekhonin, Female dancer in fairy costume, Russian, 1920,
Graphite, gouache, watercolor, MET Museum 68.701.7
In this painting by Chekonin of a dancer, the wings on the dancers costume help transform this dancer from just a dancer, into a dancer in the midst of telling a story. Unlike some other paintings of dancers that show the elegance of dance, the wings in this painting help draw attention to the fact that there is a story being told within the dance. Resembling the wings of a butterfly, these wings cause the painting to feel more childish. What is different about these wings, is that they are not in motion the same way that the dancer is, rather they appear to be more stagnant; which cause the wings feel appear to be part of a costume rather than part of the dancer.
Gerard David, The Annunciation, Netherlandish Oudewater ca. 1506 Burges,
Oil on Wood. MET Museum 50.145.9ab.
Like many of the other paintings of angels this painting is full of movement. From the robes to the wings. However, this angel in standing, and not in flight, the wings of the angel once again cause the audience to question at which moment this painting is depicting. There is a since that this angel could be coming or going. These wings are also resemble those of a large bird, making the angel feel like it is a regal or heavenly being. The wings help complete the painting as a whole.
Francesco Maffei, Hagar and the Angel, Italian, Vienza 1657 Padua,
Oil on Canvas, MET Museum 2012.200.1
In this painting by Maffei, he depicts the angel as still, rather than in flight. The angel's wings are much lighter, and do not seem to be in motion, much like the body posture of the angel the wings are at ease. Rather than depicting wings with smooth feathers laid flat, these feathers are light and airy. The feathers look as though they are soft. This is another way that painters often depict the wings of heavenly beings. Depicting the wings in a way that is more light, than strong helps make it clear that the angel is understanding, and even sympathetic. The Angel is inviting, and a comfort, rather than something to fear.