Inquisition Era art in town featuring Jesus, saints and Virgins places a halo on their heads. A halo was a yellow manifestation of their aura, the energy that surrounds all living things emitting colors. (Suffice to say, no one wants a dark aura and yellow is for those who enjoy helping others, a prerequisite for being Jesus, a saint or Virgin.)
Halos have fallen out of fashion here in town and are rarely seen in art (or so I thought). How and why did that come about I pondered?
The halo is seen as a religious trademark, and in the West, considered the very badge of medieval Catholic art. But in its origins the halo is neither western nor Catholic.
Halos, or sun discs, appeared around the heads of gods in ancient Egyptian art. The Emperors of northwestern India depicted themselves with halos on their coins in the second and third centuries before Christ.
Halos appeared in Homer’s Iliad describing a preternatural light shining around the heads of Greek heroes engaged in murderous combat at the height of pitched battle.
Later the depiction of halos becomes quite common in both Japanese and Chinese Buddhist art and eventually appeared frequently in a great variety of Hindu religious literature.
The images of Roman Emperors began to feature the halo. Initially this was the practice only after they had died and were judged to have been deified, but it soon came to be used also in the depictions of living Emperors.
It was only after all of this long history, in the fourth century after Christ, that the halo began to be used by the early Church. In San Miguel’s Inquisition Era art it became customary to represent subjects with round halos. Later it was acceptable to depict only the circumference of the halo as a circular line.
Part of the Church’s reaction against the Protestant Reformation in Europe mandated that halos be used in Catholic art. Painters tried to comply by placing a natural light source behind the subject’s head to give a more realistic effect of a halo. By 1800 halos were definitely passé in European art, unless the artist was striving to give a medieval flavor to a scene. The halo’s popularity in San Miguel’s art continued to the middle of the last century featured in many retablos.
Or are halos just as prominent in San Miguel as they ever were one just need to know where to look beyond nativity sets?
Advertising is the new home for halos. With cleaning products, the halo represents the same ideals it did in religious art – brilliance, light, and the ideal. It is arguable the Sunmaid Raisin lass looks very much like the Virgin Mary with a halo.
Advertisers use the halo to capture the same sort of emotions artists incorporated into images of the divine for centuries. The shifting of the divine from faith to the realm of material goods is readily apparent on your phone and computer with halos featured in the logos of Internet Explorer and HP.
During the Inquisition in San Miguel halo-wearing individuals were Jesus, saints and Virgins. Today a halo is an idealization of material values inspiring searching for the divine within ourselves and our own powers with hand held devices.