Francesco Maffei
The Guardian Angel

Circa 1650-55
Oil on canvas
Church of the Holy Apostles, Venice, Italy

A boy's guardian angel leads him to safety along a narrow path above a dark river where a boat carries a load of passengers to the other side. The river may represent the Styx, where souls are carried to Hell. In the lower left a naked woman in a gauzy bodice cries out while she looks to an angel in the upper right wielding a sword. Considering other Guardian Angel images, one would expect the woman to be in Purgatory, but the open mouth, the angel's sword, and the suggestion of the Styx make it seem more likely to be Hell. The angel, then, is guiding his charge across the narrow path "that leadeth to life" (Matthew 7:14) and whose alternative is damnation.

Maffei's painting influenced a genre of prints popular in the 20th century in which the angel guides a girl and a boy, the narrow path becomes a rickety bridge over a stream, and all reference to Hell is suppressed (example).

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Photographed in Venice by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.