Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art, by John Vinycomb, , at sacred-texts.com
Many poets and artists of modern times appear to have lost sight of the traditions of sacred art, and in their endeavours to spiritualise the character of angelic beings have in this respect been led to portray them as altogether feminine in form and appearance. This error should be carefully avoided, because in a spiritual as well as in a human sense the vigorous active principle they represent, besides having the warrant of Scripture, is more fitly represented by man than by woman.
Mahomet, who borrowed his ideas mostly from the Christians, in this instance, possibly to guard his followers from some latent form of idolatry, said of angels with some show of reason, that "they were too pure in nature to admit of sex," but to meet the ideas of his followers he invented another race of celestial beings for the delight and solace of the faithful in the paradise to which he lured them.
Ministering Spirits or Guardian Angels.—These form a frequent theme of poets and artists. The idea was apparently evolved from the mention of "ministering spirits" before the throne of God in holy writ, and from the ecclesiastical legends and traditions of the Christian mythology of early date, derived from still earlier sources. Thus Milton speaks of—
According to ancient Jewish belief, each person had his or her guardian angel, and a spirit could assume the aspect of some visible being:
Spenser finely expresses the idea of the good and evil influences continually warring unseen about us, and his gratitude for the effective protection of the guardian spirits:
Milton beautifully assumes the pure nature of saintly chastity attended by ministering spirits:
And Scott, in figurative language, apostrophising woman in her higher and more spiritual sphere, says in "Marmion":
Shakespeare expresses a prevailing idea that the pure in heart will become ministering angels in heaven; Laertes, at the grave of Ophelia, fiercely thunders forth: