Diorama of Archangel Michael

Statue of Saint Michael by Remi Rooms
Statue of Saint Michael by Remi Rooms on Saint Michael’s bridge next to Saint Michael’s church in my home town of Ghent

The choice of Archangel Michael as subject of my diorama is obvious: he is my patron saint since I carry the same name (although my atheist parents named my after the Florentine renaissance master Michelangelo Buonarroti). As a result I have always been fascinated by depictions of the archangel.

Historical depictions

Archangel Michael is most often depicted as defeating Satan, another angel who rose up against God. I don’t believe this story is mentioned in the Bible but it is an important part of the premise of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which I have recently read in a splendid Dutch translation by Peter Verstegen. According to Milton the expulsion of Satan from heaven lead directly to the seduction of Eve and the subsequent fall of man. One can sometimes see the Archangel Michael guiding or chasing Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden (also mentioned in Paradise Lost).

The second most occurring depiction of Saint Michael is in scenes depicting The Last Judgement. In the biblical book of Revelation he, once more, defeats evil. But in paintings he is more often shown holden a scale and weighing people to separate the ones who will be saved from those who are damned. Sometimes he battles Satan over a particular soul. So Michael plays a prominent role both at the beginning and at the end of the world.

Personal meanning

There’s a certain symmetry is the expulsion from Paradise and the Last Judgement: maybe we are still living in the Garden of Eden. But we have eaten so much from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that Satan has more or less made Earth his home. When God finally gets sick of all our silliness he sounds the trumpets and sends Michael to clean up the mess.

I do not literally believe in the stories of the Catholic faith. But I find them very inspiring (much like others may find Greek mythology inspiring). And since I grew up and live in a place still filled with many pictorial references to Christianity, I feel comfortable in this narrative atmosphere.

There’s some interesting parallels between the figure of Michael in Christian stories and Perseus in Greek mythology. Perseus defeats Medusa (a monstrous woman with snakes on her head), and then he fights a sea monster to save Andromeda (Eve?).

The idea of ultimate evil residing in hell has become somewhat laughable now that humanity has reached a level of malevolence that would make any devil proud. For me personally, the evil that Saint Michael battles is first and foremost the evil within myself (or ourselves when extended to society). The stories and depiction of Michael remind me to be alert and to banish evil to hell as soon as it rears its head. Not an easy task. Which is why it takes a Prince of Angels to handle it.

As the weighing of souls shows, defeating evil is only one part of the problem. The other part is recognizing it. And that, in my experience, is even harder to accomplish.

So there’s a personal spiritual motivation to my choice of subject for the diorama.

Diorama design

A more general aspect of angels that fascinates me is that they are supposed to be genderless. In painting, angels like Michael are often depicted with a male body, an androgynous face and long hair. Maybe I will take that aspect further in the diorama.

A painting by Crivelli inspired me to depict both the defeating of Satan and the weighing of souls in a single scene. This fits well with the idea of a vertical diorama that you scroll vertically: moving towards Michael’s feet trampling the monster may feel like descending into hell. I think this would work well in the screen-based presentation of the diorama.

For the Virtual Reality presentation I will need to do more research. On the one hand I like the idea of being confronted with a life size angel in virtual (sacred) space. But on the other I am attracted to the idea of an excessively large Michael figure, almost architectural and having the user literally travel down his body into hell.


—Michaël Samyn.




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