Halo (religious iconography)
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A halo (from the
Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece, a country in Southern Europe: *Greeks, an ethnic group. *Greek language, a branch of the Indo-European language family. **Proto-Greek language, the assumed last common ancestor ...
, ; also known as a nimbus,
aureole An aureola or aureole (diminutive of Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then k ...
, glory, or gloriole) is a crown of light rays, circle or disk of light that surrounds a person in art. It has been used in the
iconography Iconography, as a branch of art history, studies the identification, description and interpretation of the content of images: the subjects depicted, the particular compositions and details used to do so, and other elements that are distinct fro ...
of many religions to indicate holy or sacred figures, and has at various periods also been used in images of rulers and heroes. In the religious art of
Ancient Greece Ancient Greece ( el, Ἑλλάς, Hellás) was a northeastern Mediterranean Sea, Mediterranean civilization, existing from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of Classical Antiquity, classical antiquity ( AD 600), th ...
,
Ancient Rome In modern historiography, ancient Rome refers to Roman civilisation from the founding of the city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. It encompasses the Roman Kingdom (753–509 ...
,
Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion based on the Life of Jesus in the New Testament, life and Teachings of Jesus, teachings of Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. It is the Major religious groups, world's ...
,
Hinduism Hinduism () is an Indian religions, Indian religion or ''dharma'', a religious and universal order or way of life by which followers abide. As a religion, it is the Major religious groups, world's third-largest, with over 1.2–1.35 billion ...
, and
Buddhism Buddhism ( , ), also known as Buddha Dharma and Dharmavinaya (), is an Indian religions, Indian religion or Indian philosophy#Buddhist philosophy, philosophical tradition based on Pre-sectarian Buddhism, teachings attributed to the Buddha. ...
among other religions, sacred persons may be depicted with a halo in the form of a circular glow, or flames in
Asian art The history of Asian art includes a vast range of arts from various cultures, regions, and religions across the continent of Asia. The major regions of Asia include Central, East, South, Southeast The points of the compass are a set of horiz ...
, around the head or around the whole body—this last one is often called a
mandorla A mandorla is an almond-shaped aureola, i.e. a frame that surrounds the totality of an iconographic figure. It is usually synonymous with ''vesica piscis, vesica'', a lens shape. Mandorlas often surround the figures of Jesus Christ and the Virgi ...
. Halos may be shown as almost any colour or combination of colours, but are most often depicted as golden, yellow or white when representing light or red when representing flames.


Ancient Mesopotamia

Sumer Sumer () is the earliest known civilization in the historical region of southern Mesopotamia (south-central Iraq), emerging during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age, early Bronze Ages between the sixth and fifth millennium BC. It is one of ...
ian religious literature frequently speaks of (loaned into Akkadian as ), a "brilliant, visible glamour which is exuded by gods, heroes, sometimes by kings, and also by temples of great holiness and by gods' symbols and emblems."


Ancient Greek world

Homer Homer (; grc, Ὅμηρος , ''Hómēros'') (born ) was a Greek poet who is credited as the author of the ''Iliad'' and the ''Odyssey'', two epic poems that are foundational works of ancient Greek literature. Homer is considered one of the ...
describes a more-than-natural light around the heads of heroes in battle. Depictions of
Perseus In Greek mythology A major branch of classical mythology, Greek mythology is the body of myths originally told by the Ancient Greece, ancient Greeks, and a genre of Ancient Greek folklore. These stories concern the Cosmogony, origin and C ...
in the act of slaying
Medusa In Greek mythology, Medusa (; Ancient Greek: Μέδουσα "guardian, protectress"), also called Gorgo, was one of the three monstrous Gorgons, generally described as winged human females with living venomous snakes in place of hair. Those ...
, with lines radiating from his head, appear on a white-ground toiletry box and on a slightly later red-figured vase in the style of
Polygnotos Polygnotus ( el, Πολύγνωτος ''Polygnotos'') was an ancient Greek painter from the middle of the 5th century BC. Life He was the son and pupil of Aglaophon. He was a native of Thasos, but was adopted by the Athenians, and admitted to ...
, . On painted wares from
south Italy South Italy ( it, Italia meridionale or just ) is one of the five official statistical regions of Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), officially the Italian Republic, ) or the Republic of Italy, is a country in Southern Europe. It is located in ...
, radiant lines or simple haloes appear on a range of mythic figures: Lyssa, a personification of madness; a
sphinx A sphinx ( , grc, σφίγξ , Aeolic Greek, Boeotian: , plural sphinxes or sphinges) is a mythical creature with the head of a human, the body of a lion, and the wings of a falcon. In Culture of Greece, Greek tradition, the sphinx has the he ...
; a sea demon; and
Thetis Thetis (; grc-gre, Θέτις ), is a figure from Greek mythology with varying mythological roles. She mainly appears as a sea nymph, a goddess of water, or one of the 50 Nereids, daughters of the ancient sea god Nereus. When described as ...
, the sea-nymph who was mother to
Achilles In Greek mythology, Achilles ( ) or Achilleus ( grc-gre, wikt:Ἀχιλλεύς, Ἀχιλλεύς) was a hero of the Trojan War, the greatest of all the Greek warriors, and the central character of Homer's ''Iliad''. He was the son of the Ner ...
. The
Colossus of Rhodes The Colossus of Rhodes ( grc, ὁ Κολοσσὸς Ῥόδιος, ho Kolossòs Rhódios gr, Κολοσσός της Ρόδου, Kolossós tes Rhódou) was a statue of the Greek sun-god Helios, erected in the city of Rhodes (city), Rhodes, on ...
was a statue of the sun-god
Helios In ancient Greek religion and Greek mythology, mythology, Helios (; grc, , , Sun; Homeric Greek: ) is the deity, god and personification of the Sun (Solar deity). His name is also Latinized as Helius, and he is often given the epithets Hyper ...
and had his usual
radiate crown A radiant or radiate crown, also known as a solar crown, sun crown, Eastern crown, or tyrant's crown, is a crown A crown is a traditional form of head adornment, or hat, worn by monarchs as a symbol of their power and dignity. A cro ...
(copied for the
Statue of Liberty The Statue of Liberty (''Liberty Enlightening the World''; French: ''La Liberté éclairant le monde'') is a List of colossal sculpture in situ, colossal neoclassical sculpture on Liberty Island in New York Harbor in New York City, in the U ...
).
Hellenistic In Classical antiquity, the Hellenistic period covers the time in History of the Mediterranean region, Mediterranean history after Classical Greece, between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire, as sig ...
rulers are often shown wearing radiate crowns that seem clearly to imitate this effect.


Asian art

In India, use of the halo might date back to the second half of the second millennium BC. Two figures appliqued on a pottery vase fragment from Daimabad's Malwa phase (1600–1400 BC) have been interpreted as a holy figure resembling the later Hindu god
Shiva Shiva (; sa, शिव, lit=The Auspicious One, Śiva ), also known as Mahadeva (; Help:IPA/Sanskrit, ɐɦaːd̪eːʋɐ, or Hara, is one of the Hindu deities, principal deities of Hinduism. He is the Supreme Being in Shaivism, one o ...
and an attendant, both with halos surrounding their heads,
Aureola An aureola or aureole (diminutive of Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then k ...
have been widely used in Indian art, particularly in
Buddhist Buddhism ( , ), also known as Buddha Dharma and Dharmavinaya (), is an Indian religion or philosophical tradition based on teachings attributed to the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama, most commonly referred to as the Buddha, was a ...
iconography where it has appeared since at least the 1st century AD; the Kushan
Bimaran casket The Bimaran casket or Bimaran reliquary is a small gold reliquary for Buddhism, Buddhist Śarīra, relics that was found inside the stupa no.2 at Bimaran, near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. Discovery When it was found by the archaeologist C ...
in the
British Museum The British Museum is a public museum dedicated to human history, art and culture located in the Bloomsbury area of London. Its permanent collection of eight million works is among the list of largest art museums, largest and most comprehens ...
is dated 60 AD (at least between 30BC and 200 AD). The rulers of the
Kushan Empire The Kushan Empire ( grc, Βασιλεία Κοσσανῶν; xbc, Κυϸανο, ; sa, कुषाण वंश; Brahmi: , '; Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, BHS: ; xpr, 𐭊𐭅𐭔𐭍 𐭇𐭔𐭕𐭓, ; zh, wikt:貴霜, 貴霜 ) was a Sync ...
were perhaps the earliest to give themselves haloes on their coins, and the nimbus in art may have originated in Central Asia and spread both east and west. In Chinese and Japanese
Buddhist art Buddhist art is visual art produced in the context of Buddhism. It includes Buddha in art, depictions of Gautama Buddha and other Buddhas and bodhisattvas in art, Buddhas and bodhisattvas, notable Buddhist figures both historical and mythical, na ...
the halo has also been used since the earliest periods in depicting the image of Amitabha Buddha and others.
Tibetan Buddhism Tibetan Buddhism (also referred to as Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, Lamaism, Lamaistic Buddhism, Himalayan Buddhism, and Northern Buddhism) is the form of Buddhism practiced in Tibet and Bhutan, where it is the dominant religion. It is also in majo ...
uses haloes and aureoles of many types, drawing from both Indian and Chinese traditions, extensively in statues and
Thangka A ''thangka'', variously spelled as ''thangka'', ''tangka'', ''thanka'', or ''tanka'' (; Standard Tibetan, Tibetan: ཐང་ཀ་; Nepal Bhasa: पौभा), is a Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton, silk appliqué, usuall ...
paintings of Buddhist saints such as
Milarepa Jetsun Milarepa (, 1028/40–1111/23) was a Tibetan siddha, who was famously known as a murderer when he was a young man, before turning to Buddhism and becoming a highly accomplished Buddhist disciple. He is generally considered one of Tibet's m ...
and
Padmasambhava Padmasambhava ("Born from a Lotus"), also known as Guru Rinpoche (Precious Guru) and the Lotus from Oḍḍiyāna, was a tantric Buddhist Vajracharya, Vajra master from India who may have taught Vajrayana in Tibet (circa 8th – 9th centuries).. ...
and deities. Different coloured haloes have specific meanings: orange for monks, green for the Buddha and other more elevated beings, and commonly figures have both a halo for the head, and another circular one for the body, the two often intersecting somewhere around the head or neck. Thin lines of gold often radiate outwards or inwards from the rim of the halo, and sometimes a whole halo is made up of these. In India the head halo is called or , while the full body halo is . Elaborate haloes and especially aureoles also appear in
Hindu Hindus (; ) are people who religiously adhere to Hinduism.Jeffery D. Long (2007), A Vision for Hinduism, IB Tauris, , pages 35–37 Historically, the term has also been used as a geographical, cultural, and later religious identifier for ...
sculpture, where they tend to develop into architectural frames in which the original idea can be hard to recognise.
Theravada ''Theravāda'' () ( si, ථේරවාදය, my, ထေရဝါဒ, th, เถรวาท, km, ថេរវាទ, lo, ເຖຣະວາດ, pi, , ) is the most commonly accepted name of Buddhism's oldest existing school. The school' ...
Buddhism and
Jainism Jainism ( ), also known as Jain Dharma, is an Indian religions, Indian religion. Jainism traces its spiritual ideas and history through the succession of twenty-four tirthankaras (supreme preachers of ''Dharma''), with the first in the current ...
did not use the halo for many centuries, but later adopted it, though less thoroughly than other religious groups. In Asian art, the nimbus is often imagined as consisting not just of light, but of flames. This type seems to first appear in Chinese bronzes of which the earliest surviving examples date from before 450. The depiction of the flames may be very formalized, as in the regular little flames on the ring aureole surrounding many
Chola The Chola dynasty was a Tamils, Tamil thalassocratic Tamil Dynasties, empire of southern India and one of the longest-ruling dynasties in the history of the world. The earliest datable references to the Chola are from inscriptions dated ...
bronzes and other classic Hindu sculptures of divinities, or very prominent, as with the more realistic flames, and sometimes smoke, shown rising to a peak behind many Tibetan Buddhist depictions of the "wrathful aspect" of divinities, and also in
Persian miniature A Persian miniature (Persian language, Persian: نگارگری ایرانی ''negârgari Irâni'') is a small Persian painting on paper, whether a book illustration or a separate work of art intended to be kept in an album of such works called a ...
s of the classic period. Sometimes a thin line of flames rise up from the edges of a circular halo in Buddhist examples. In Tibetan paintings the flames are often shown as blown by a wind, usually from left to right. This type is also very rarely found, and on a smaller scale, in medieval Christian art. Halos are found in
Islamic art Islamic art is a part of Islamic culture and encompasses the visual arts produced since the 7th century CE by people who lived within territories inhabited or ruled by Muslims, Muslim populations. Referring to characteristic traditions across ...
from various places and periods, especially in
Persian miniature A Persian miniature (Persian language, Persian: نگارگری ایرانی ''negârgari Irâni'') is a small Persian painting on paper, whether a book illustration or a separate work of art intended to be kept in an album of such works called a ...
s and Moghul and Ottoman art influenced by them. Flaming halos derived from Buddhist art surround angels, and similar ones are often seen around Muhammad and other sacred human figures. From the early 17th century, plainer round haloes appear in portraits of
Mughal Emperors The Mughal emperors ( fa, , Pādishāhān) were the supreme heads of state of the Mughal Empire on the Indian subcontinent, mainly corresponding to the modern countries of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The Mughal rulers styled t ...
and subsequently
Rajput Rajput (from Sanskrit ''raja-putra'' 'son of a king') is a large multi-component cluster of castes, kin bodies, and local groups, sharing social status and ideology of genealogical descent originating from the Indian subcontinent. The term Ra ...
and
Sikh Sikhs ( or ; pa, ਸਿੱਖ, ' ) are people who adhere to Sikhism (Sikhi), a monotheistic religion that originated in the late 15th century in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent, based on the revelation of Guru Nanak. The ter ...
rulers; despite the more local precedents art historians believe the Mughals took the motif from European religious art, though it expresses a Persian idea of the God-given
charisma Charisma () is a personal quality of presence or charm that compels its subjects. Scholars in sociology, political science, psychology, and management reserve the term for a type of leadership seen as extraordinary; in these fields, the term "ch ...
of kingship that is far older. The
Ottomans The Ottoman Turks ( tr, Osmanlı Türkleri), were the Turkic founding and sociopolitically the most dominant ethnic group of the Ottoman Empire The Ottoman Empire, * ; is an archaic version. The definite article forms and were synony ...
avoided using halos for the
sultan Sultan (; ar, سلطان ', ) is a Royal and noble ranks, position with several historical meanings. Originally, it was an Arabic abstract noun meaning "strength", "authority", "rulership", derived from the verbal noun ', meaning "authority" ...
s, despite their title as
Caliph A caliphate or khilāfah ( ar, خِلَافَة, ) is an institution or public office under the leadership of an Islamic steward with the title of caliph (; ar, خَلِيفَة , ), a person considered a political-religious successor to th ...
, and they are only seen on Chinese emperors if they are posing as Buddhist religious figures, as some felt entitled to do.


Egypt and Asia

File:Maler der Grabkammer der Nefertari 001.jpg, Ra with solar disc, before 1235 BC File:TrilogyDetail.JPG, The Kushan Kanishka casket of 127, with (left to right)
Brahma Brahma ( sa, ब्रह्मा, Brahmā) is a Hindu god, referred to as "the Creator" within the Trimurti, the triple deity, trinity of Para Brahman, supreme divinity that includes Vishnu, and Shiva.Jan Gonda (1969)The Hindu Trinity Anthro ...
, the
Buddha Siddhartha Gautama, most commonly referred to as the Buddha, was a śramaṇa, wandering ascetic and religious teacher who lived in South Asia during the 6th or 5th century BCE and founded Buddhism. According to Buddhist tradition, he was ...
and
Indra Indra (; Sanskrit Sanskrit (; attributively , ; nominalization, nominally , , ) is a classical language belonging to the Indo-Aryan languages, Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. It arose in South Asia after its predecessor ...
. File:Maitri.jpg,
Northern Wei Wei (), known in historiography as the Northern Wei (), Tuoba Wei (), Yuan Wei () and Later Wei (), was founded by the Tuoba (Tabgach) clan of the Xianbei. The first of the Northern and Southern dynasties#Northern dynasties, Northern dynasties ...
Buddhist bronze, 524, with two-ringed halo within a flaming
mandorla A mandorla is an almond-shaped aureola, i.e. a frame that surrounds the totality of an iconographic figure. It is usually synonymous with ''vesica piscis, vesica'', a lens shape. Mandorlas often surround the figures of Jesus Christ and the Virgi ...
File:Shiva Nataraja Musée Guimet 25971.jpg,
Chola The Chola dynasty was a Tamils, Tamil thalassocratic Tamil Dynasties, empire of southern India and one of the longest-ruling dynasties in the history of the world. The earliest datable references to the Chola are from inscriptions dated ...
Nataraja Nataraja () also known as Adalvallaan () is a depiction of the Hindu deities, Hindu god Shiva as the divine cosmic dancer. His dance is called Tandava.''Encyclopædia Britannica'' (2015) The pose and artwork are described in many Hindu texts ...
with an aureole of flames (11th century). File:Museum für Indische Kunst Dahlem Berlin Mai 2006 019.jpg,
Hindu Hindus (; ) are people who religiously adhere to Hinduism.Jeffery D. Long (2007), A Vision for Hinduism, IB Tauris, , pages 35–37 Historically, the term has also been used as a geographical, cultural, and later religious identifier for ...
figure (11th century). File:Vishnu Kumartuli Park Sarbojanin Arnab Dutta 2010.JPG, Modern
murti In the Hinduism, Hindu tradition, a ''murti'' ( sa, मूर्ति, mūrti, ) is a devotional image such as a statue, or "idol" (a common and non-pejorative term in Indian English), of a Hindu deities, deity or Hindu saints, saint. In Hin ...
of
Vishnu Vishnu ( ; , ), also known as Narayana and Hari, is one of the Hindu deities, principal deities of Hinduism. He is the supreme being within Vaishnavism, one of the major traditions within contemporary Hinduism. Vishnu is known as "The Prese ...
, with halo created by lighting File:Bichitr - Jahangir preferring a sufi sheikh to kings.jpg, The
Mughal emperor The Mughal emperors ( fa, , Pādishāhān) were the supreme heads of state of the Mughal Empire on the Indian subcontinent, mainly corresponding to the modern countries of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The Mughal rulers styled t ...
Jahangir Nur-ud-Din Muhammad Salim (30 August 1569 – 28 October 1627), known by his imperial name Jahangir (; ), was the fourth Mughal Emperor, who ruled from 1605 until he died in 1627. He was named after the Indian Sufi saint, Salim Chishti. Ear ...
often had himself depicted with a halo of unprecedented size. c. 1620 File:Tibetan Thangka, anonymous, private collection.jpg, A multi-limbed Tibetan deity surrounded by an aureole of billowing fire and a pillar of smoke which signifies the wrathful nature of the deity (19th century). (
Thangka A ''thangka'', variously spelled as ''thangka'', ''tangka'', ''thanka'', or ''tanka'' (; Standard Tibetan, Tibetan: ཐང་ཀ་; Nepal Bhasa: पौभा), is a Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhist painting on cotton, silk appliqué, usuall ...
of the
Hayagriva Hayagriva, also spelled Hayagreeva ( sa, हयग्रीव IAST , ), is a Hindu Hindus (; ) are people who religiously adhere to Hinduism.Jeffery D. Long (2007), A Vision for Hinduism, IB Tauris, , pages 35–37 Historically, ...
) File:Durga, Burdwan, 2011.JPG, Modern
Hindu Hindus (; ) are people who religiously adhere to Hinduism.Jeffery D. Long (2007), A Vision for Hinduism, IB Tauris, , pages 35–37 Historically, the term has also been used as a geographical, cultural, and later religious identifier for ...
devotional images of
Durga Durga ( sa, दुर्गा, ) is a major Hinduism, Hindu Devi, goddess, worshipped as a principal aspect of the mother goddess Mahadevi. She is associated with protection, strength, motherhood, destruction, and wars. Durga's legend cen ...
and other haloed deities


Roman art

The halo represents an aura or the glow of sanctity which was conventionally drawn encircling the head. It first appeared in the culture of Hellenistic Greece and
Rome , established_title = Founded , established_date = 753 BC , founder = King Romulus (Romulus and Remus, legendary) , image_map = Map of comune of Rome (metropolitan city of Capital Rome, region Lazio, Italy).svg ...
, possibly related to the
Zoroastrian Zoroastrianism is an Iranian religions, Iranian religion and one of the world's History of religion, oldest organized faiths, based on the teachings of the Iranian peoples, Iranian-speaking prophet Zoroaster. It has a Dualism in cosmology, du ...
''hvarena'' – "glory" or "divine lustre" – which marked the Persian kings, and may have been imported with
Mithraism Mithraism, also known as the Mithraic mysteries or the Cult of Mithras, was a Roman Empire, Roman mystery religion centered on the god Mithras. Although inspired by Iranian peoples, Iranian worship of the Zoroastrian divinity (''yazata'') Mit ...
. Though Roman paintings have largely disappeared, save some
fresco Fresco (plural ''frescos'' or ''frescoes'') is a technique of Mural, mural painting executed upon freshly laid ("wet") lime plaster. Water is used as the vehicle for the dry-powder pigment to merge with the plaster, and with the setting of the ...
decorations, the haloed figure remains fresh in Roman mosaics. In a 2nd-century AD Roman floor mosaic preserved at
Bardo In some schools of Buddhism, ''bardo'' ( xct, བར་དོ་ Wylie: ''bar do'') or ''antarābhava'' (Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese: 中有, romanized in Chinese as ''zhōng yǒu'' and in Japanese as ''chū'u'') is an intermediate, transitio ...
, Tunisia, a haloed
Poseidon Poseidon (; grc-gre, wikt:Ποσειδῶν, Ποσειδῶν) was one of the Twelve Olympians in Religion in ancient Greece, ancient Greek religion and Greek mythology, myth, god of the sea, storms, earthquakes and horses.Burkert 1985pp. 1 ...
appears in his chariot drawn by
hippocamp The hippocampus or hippocamp, also ''hippokampos'' (plural: hippocampi or hippocamps; grc, ἱππόκαμπος, from , "horse" and , "sea monster"
s. Significantly, the triton and
nereid In Greek mythology, the Nereids or Nereides ( ; grc, Νηρηΐδες, Nērēḯdes; , also Νημερτές) are sea nymphs (female spirits of sea waters), the 50 daughters of the 'Old Man of the Sea' Nereus and the Oceanids, Oceanid Doris ...
who accompany the sea-god are not haloed. In a late 2nd century AD floor mosaic from Thysdrus, El Djem, (''illustration'') Apollo Helios is identified by his effulgent halo. Another haloed Apollo in mosaic, from Hadrumentum, is in the museum at
Sousse Sousse or Soussa ( ar, سوسة, ; Berber language, Berber:''Susa'') is a city in Tunisia, capital of the Sousse Governorate. Located south of the capital Tunis, the city has 271,428 inhabitants (2014). Sousse is in the central-east of the count ...
. The conventions of this representation, head tilted, lips slightly parted, large-eyed, curling hair cut in locks grazing the neck, were developed in the 3rd century BC to depict
Alexander the Great Alexander III of Macedon ( grc, wikt:Ἀλέξανδρος, Ἀλέξανδρος, Alexandros; 20/21 July 356 BC – 10/11 June 323 BC), commonly known as Alexander the Great, was a king of the Ancient Greece, ancient Greek kingdom of Maced ...
(Bieber 1964; Yalouris 1980). Sometime after this mosaic was executed, the Emperor began to be depicted with a halo, which was not abandoned when they became Christian; initially Christ only had one when shown on a throne as
Christ in Majesty Christ in Majesty or Christ in Glory ( la, Maiestas Domini) is the Western Christian image of Christ seated on a throne as ruler of the world, always seen frontally in the centre of the composition, and often flanked by other sacred figures, whos ...
.


Christian art

The halo was incorporated into
Early Christian art Early Christian art and architecture or Paleochristian art is the art produced by Christians or under Christian patronage from the Early Christianity, earliest period of Christianity to, depending on the definition used, sometime between 260 and 5 ...
sometime in the 4th century with the earliest
icon An icon () is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, in the cultures of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Catholic Church, Catholic churches. They are not simply artworks; "an icon is a sacred image used in religious devo ...
ic images of Christ, initially the only figure shown with one (together with his symbol, the
Lamb of God Lamb of God ( el, Ἀμνὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ, Amnòs toû Theoû; la, Agnus Dei, ) is a Names and titles of Jesus in the New Testament, title for Jesus that appears in the Gospel of John. It appears at wikisource:Bible (American Standard)/Jo ...
). Initially the halo was regarded by many as a representation of the ''
Logos ''Logos'' (, ; grc, wikt:λόγος, λόγος, lógos, lit=word, discourse, or reason) is a term used in Western philosophy, psychology and rhetoric and refers to the appeal to reason that relies on logic or reason, inductive and deductive ...
'' of Christ, his divine nature, and therefore in very early (before 500) depictions of Christ before his Baptism by
John John is a common English name and surname: * John (given name) John (; ') is a common male given name in the English language of Hebrew language, Hebrew origin. The name is the English form of ''Iohannes'' and ''Ioannes'', which are the La ...
he tends not to be shown with a halo, it being a matter of debate whether his ''Logos'' was innate from conception (the Orthodox view), or acquired at Baptism (the Adoptionist view). At this period he is also shown as a child or youth in ''Baptisms'', though this may be a hieratic rather than an age-related representation. A cruciform halo, that is to say a halo with a cross within, or extending beyond, the circle is used to represent the persons of the
Holy Trinity The Christian theology, Christian doctrine of the Trinity (, from 'threefold') is the central dogma concerning the nature of God in most Christian churches, which defines Monotheism, one God existing in three wikt:coequal, coequal, wikt:coe ...
, especially
Jesus Jesus, likely from he, יֵשׁוּעַ, translit=Yēšūaʿ, label=Hebrew/Aramaic ( AD 30 or 33), also referred to as Jesus Christ or Jesus of Nazareth (among other Names and titles of Jesus in the New Testament, names and titles), was ...
, and especially in medieval art. In Byzantine and Orthodox images, inside each of the bars of the cross in Christ's halo is one of the
Greek letter The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the late 9th or early 8th century BCE. It is derived from the earlier Phoenician alphabet, and was the earliest known alphabetic script to have distinct letters for vowels as ...
s Ο Ω Ν, making up —"ho ōn", literally, "the Existing One"—indicating the
divinity of Jesus In Christianity, Christology (from the Ancient Greek, Greek grc, Χριστός, Khristós, label=none and grc, wiktionary:-λογία, -λογία, wiktionary:-logia, -logia, label=none), translated literally from Greek as "the study of Chr ...
. At least in later Orthodox images, each bar of this cross is composed of three lines, symbolising the
dogma Dogma is a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted. It may be in the form of an official system of principles or doctrines of a religion, such as Catholic Church, Roman Catholicism, ...
s of the Trinity, the oneness of God and the two natures of Christ. In
mosaic A mosaic is a pattern or image made of small regular or irregular pieces of colored stone, glass or ceramic, held in place by plaster/mortar, and covering a surface. Mosaics are often used as floor and wall decoration, and were particularly pop ...
s in
Santa Maria Maggiore The Basilica of Saint Mary Major ( it, Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, ; la, Basilica Sanctae Mariae Maioris), or church of Santa Maria Maggiore, is a Basilicas in the Catholic Church#Major and papal basilicas, Major papal basilica as well ...
(432–40) the juvenile Christ has a four-armed cross either on top of his head in the radius of the nimbus, or placed above the radius, but this is unusual. In the same mosaics the accompanying angels have haloes (as, in a continuation of the Imperial tradition, does King Herod), but not Mary and
Joseph Joseph is a common male given name A given name (also known as a forename or first name) is the part of a personal name quoted in that identifies a person, potentially with a middle name as well, and differentiates that person from the o ...
. Occasionally other figures have crossed haloes, such as the seven doves representing the
Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are an enumeration of seven spiritual gifts first found in the book of Isaiah, and much commented upon by patristic authors. They are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of ...
in the 11th century
Codex Vyssegradensis The Vyšehrad Codex (Latin ''Codex Vyssegradensis''), also known as the ''Coronation Gospels of King Vratislaus'', is a late 11th-century illuminated Romanesque Gospel Book A Gospel Book, Evangelion, or Book of the Gospels (Greek language, Gre ...
Tree of Jesse The Tree of Jesse is a depiction in art of the ancestors of Jesus Christ Jesus, likely from he, יֵשׁוּעַ, translit=Yēšūaʿ, label=Hebrew/Aramaic ( AD 30 or 33), also referred to as Jesus Christ or Jesus of Nazareth (amo ...
(where Jesse and
Isaiah Isaiah ( or ; he, , ''Yəšaʿyāhū'', "Yahweh, God is Salvation"), also known as Isaias, was the 8th-century BC Israelite Biblical prophet, prophet after whom the Book of Isaiah is named. Within the text of the Book of Isaiah, Isaiah hims ...
also have plain haloes, as do the
Ancestors of Christ The New Testament The New Testament grc, Ἡ Καινὴ Διαθήκη, Transliteration, transl. ; la, Novum Testamentum. (NT) is the second division of the Christian biblical canon. It discusses the teachings and person of Jesus in C ...
in other miniatures). Later, triangular haloes are sometimes given to
God the Father God the Father is a title given to God in Christianity. In mainstream trinity, trinitarian Christianity, God the Father is regarded as the first person of the Trinity, followed by the second person, God the Son Jesus Christ, and the third pers ...
to represent the
Trinity The Christian doctrine of the Trinity (, from 'threefold') is the central dogma concerning the nature of God in most Christian churches, which defines one God existing in three coequal, coeternal, consubstantial divine persons: God t ...
. When he is represented by a hand emerging from a cloud, this may be given a halo. Plain round haloes are typically used to signify
saint In religious belief, a saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness, likeness, or closeness to God In monotheistic thought, God is usually viewed as the supreme being, creator, and principal object of ...
s, the Virgin Mary,
Old Testament The Old Testament (often abbreviated OT) is the first division of the Christian biblical canon, which is based primarily upon the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible The Hebrew Bible or Tanakh (;
prophets, angels, symbols of the Four Evangelists, and some other figures.
Byzantine emperor This is a list of the Byzantine emperors from the foundation of Constantinople in 330 AD, which marks the conventional start of the Byzantine Empire, Eastern Roman Empire, to Fall of Constantinople, its fall to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 AD. On ...
s and empresses were often shown with them in compositions including saints or Christ, however the haloes were outlined only. This was copied by Ottonian and later Russian rulers. Old Testament figures become less likely to have haloes in the West as the Middle Ages go on.
Beatified Beatification (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) arou ...
figures, not yet canonised as saints, are sometimes shown in medieval Italian art with linear rays radiating out from the head, but no circular edge of the nimbus defined; later this became a less obtrusive form of halo that could be used for all figures. Mary has, especially from the
Baroque The Baroque (, ; ) is a Style (visual arts), style of Baroque architecture, architecture, Baroque music, music, Baroque dance, dance, Baroque painting, painting, Baroque sculpture, sculpture, poetry, and other arts that flourished in Europe from ...
period onwards, a special form of halo in a circle of twelve stars, derived from her identification as the
Woman of the Apocalypse The Woman of the Apocalypse (or the woman clothed with the sun, el, γυνὴ περιβεβλημένη τὸν ἥλιον; Latin: ) is a figure, traditionally believed to be the Virgin Mary, described in Revelation 12, Chapter 12 of the Bo ...
. were sometimes used for the living in
donor portrait A donor portrait or votive portrait is a portrait in a larger painting or other work showing the person who commissioned and paid for the image, or a member of his, or (much more rarely) her, family. ''Donor portrait'' usually refers to the portr ...
s of about 500–1100 in Italy; Most surviving ones are of Popes and others in
mosaic A mosaic is a pattern or image made of small regular or irregular pieces of colored stone, glass or ceramic, held in place by plaster/mortar, and covering a surface. Mosaics are often used as floor and wall decoration, and were particularly pop ...
s in Rome, including the
Episcopa Theodora ''Episcopa Theodora'' is the Greek language, Greek inscription on a 9th-century Christian mosaic in the Chapel of Bishop Zeno of Verona located within the Santa Prassede, Church of Saint Praxedis the Martyress in Rome. The honorific title ref ...
head of the mother of the Pope of the day. They seem merely an indication of a contemporary figure, as opposed to the saints usually accompanying them, with no real implication of future canonization. A late example is of Desiderius, Abbot of Monte Cassino, later Pope, from a manuscript of 1056–86; Pope
Gregory the Great Pope Gregory I ( la, Gregorius I; – 12 March 604), commonly known as Saint Gregory the Great, was the bishop of Rome from 3 September 590 to his death. He is known for instigating the first recorded large-scale mission from Rome, the Gregoria ...
had himself depicted with one, according to the 9th-century writer of his '' vita'', John, deacon of Rome. A figure who may represent
Moses Moses hbo, מֹשֶׁה, Mōše; also known as Moshe or Moshe Rabbeinu (Mishnaic Hebrew: מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ, ); syr, ܡܘܫܐ, Mūše; ar, موسى, Mūsā; grc, Mωϋσῆς, Mōÿsēs () is considered the most important Prop ...
in the 3rd century Dura Europos Synagogue has one, where no round halos are found. Personifications of the
Virtues Virtue ( la, virtus) is morality, moral excellence. A virtue is a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is Value (ethics), valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. In other words, it is a behavior that sh ...
are sometimes given
hexagon In geometry, a hexagon (from Ancient Greek, Greek , , meaning "six", and , , meaning "corner, angle") or sexagon (from Latin , meaning "six") is a six-sided polygon or 6-gon creating the outline of a cube. The total of the internal angles of any ...
al haloes. Scalloped haloes, sometimes just appearing as made of radiating bars, are found in the manuscripts of the
Carolingian The Carolingian dynasty (; known variously as the Carlovingians, Carolingus, Carolings, Karolinger or Karlings) was a Franks, Frankish noble family named after Charlemagne, grandson of Mayor of the palace, mayor Charles Martel and a descendant ...
"Ada School", such as the Ada Gospels. The whole-body image of radiance is sometimes called the '
aureole An aureola or aureole (diminutive of Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then k ...
' or ''glory''; it is shown radiating from all round the body, most often of Christ or Mary, occasionally of saints (especially those reported to have been seen surrounded by one). Such an aureola is often a
mandorla A mandorla is an almond-shaped aureola, i.e. a frame that surrounds the totality of an iconographic figure. It is usually synonymous with ''vesica piscis, vesica'', a lens shape. Mandorlas often surround the figures of Jesus Christ and the Virgi ...
("almond-shaped"
vesica piscis The vesica piscis is a type of Lens (geometry), lens, a mathematical shape formed by the Intersection (Euclidean geometry), intersection of two disk (mathematics), disks with the same radius, intersecting in such a way that the center of each dis ...
), especially around
Christ in Majesty Christ in Majesty or Christ in Glory ( la, Maiestas Domini) is the Western Christian image of Christ seated on a throne as ruler of the world, always seen frontally in the centre of the composition, and often flanked by other sacred figures, whos ...
, who may well have a halo as well. In depictions of the Transfiguration of Jesus a more complicated shape is often seen, especially in the
Eastern Orthodox Eastern Orthodoxy, also known as Eastern Orthodox Christianity, is one of the three main branches of Chalcedonian Christianity, alongside Catholicism and Protestantism. Like the Pentarchy of the first millennium, the mainstream (or " canonica ...
tradition, as in the famous 15th century icon in the
Tretyakov Gallery The State Tretyakov Gallery (russian: Государственная Третьяковская Галерея, ''Gosudarstvennaya Tretyâkovskaya Galereya''; abbreviated ГТГ, ''GTG'') is an art gallery in Moscow, Russia, which is considered th ...
in
Moscow Moscow ( , US chiefly ; rus, links=no, Москва, r=Moskva, p=mɐskˈva, a=Москва.ogg) is the capital and largest city of Russia Russia (, , ), or the Russian Federation, is a List of transcontinental countries, transco ...
. Where gold is used as a background in miniatures,
mosaic A mosaic is a pattern or image made of small regular or irregular pieces of colored stone, glass or ceramic, held in place by plaster/mortar, and covering a surface. Mosaics are often used as floor and wall decoration, and were particularly pop ...
s and panel paintings, the halo is often formed by inscribing lines in the
gold leaf Gold leaf is gold that has been hammered into thin sheets (usually around 0.1 µm thick) by goldbeating and is often used for gilding. Gold leaf is available in a wide variety of carat (purity), karats and shades. The most commonly used g ...
, and may be decorated in patterns (
diapering Diaper is any of a wide range of decorative patterns used in a variety of works of art, such as stained glass, heraldic shields, architecture, and silverwork. Its chief use is in the enlivening of plain surfaces. Etymology For the full etymolog ...
) within the outer radius, and thus becomes much less prominent. The gold leaf inside the halo may also be burnished in a circular manner, so as to produce the effect of light radiating out from the subject's head. In the early centuries of its use, the Christian halo may be in most colours (though black is reserved for
Judas Judas Iscariot (; grc-x-biblical, Ἰούδας Ἰσκαριώτης; syc, ܝܗܘܕܐ ܣܟܪܝܘܛܐ; died AD) was a Disciple (Christianity), disciple and one of the original Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ (title), Christ. According to a ...
,
Satan Satan,, ; grc, ὁ σατανᾶς or , ; ar, شيطانالخَنَّاس , also known as Devil in Christianity, the Devil, and sometimes also called Lucifer in Christianity, is an non-physical entity, entity in the Abrahamic religions ...
and other evil figures) or multicoloured; later gold becomes standard, and if the entire background is not gold leaf, the halo itself usually will be.


Decline of the halo

With increasing realism in painting, the halo came to be a problem for artists. So long as they continued to use the old compositional formulae which had been worked out to accommodate haloes, the problems were manageable, but as Western artists sought more flexibility in composition, this ceased to be the case. In free-standing medieval
sculpture Sculpture is the branch of the visual arts that operates in three dimensions. Sculpture is the three-dimensional art work which is physically presented in the dimensions of height, width and depth. It is one of the plastic arts. Durable sc ...
, the halo was already shown as a flat disk above or behind the head. When perspective came to be considered essential, painters also changed the halo from an aura surrounding the head, always depicted as though seen full-on, to a flat golden disk or ring that appeared in perspective, floating above the heads of the saints, or vertically behind, sometimes transparent. This can be seen first in
Giotto Giotto di Bondone (; – January 8, 1337), known mononymously as Giotto ( , ) and latinisation of names, Latinised as Giottus, was an List of Italian painters, Italian painter and architect from Florence during the Late Middle Ages. He worked ...
, who still gives Christ the cruciform halo which began to be phased out by his successors. In northern Europe the radiant halo, made up of rays like a
sunburst A sunburst is a design or figure commonly used in ornament (architecture), architectural ornaments and Pattern (architecture), design patterns and possibly pattern books. It consists of rays or "beams" radiating out from a central disk in the ...
, came into fashion in French painting around the end of the 14th century. In the early 15th century
Jan van Eyck Jan van Eyck ( , ; – July 9, 1441) was a painter active in Bruges who was one of the early innovators of what became known as Early Netherlandish painting, and one of the most significant representatives of Early Northern Renaissance art. Ac ...
and
Robert Campin Robert Campin (c. 1375 – 26 April 1444), now usually identified with the Master of Flémalle (earlier the Master of the Merode Triptych, before the discovery of three other similar panels), was the first great master of Early Netherlandish paint ...
largely abandoned their use, although some other
Early Netherlandish Early Netherlandish painting, traditionally known as the Flemish Primitives, refers to the work of artists active in the Burgundian Netherlands, Burgundian and Habsburg Netherlands during the 15th- and 16th-century Northern Renaissance period. ...
artists continued to use them. In Italy at around the same time,
Pisanello Pisanello (c. 1380/1395c. 1450/1455), born Antonio di Puccio Pisano or Antonio di Puccio da Cereto, also erroneously called Vittore Pisano by Giorgio Vasari, was one of the most distinguished painters of the early Italian Renaissance and Quattroc ...
used them if they did not clash with one of the enormous hats he liked to paint. Generally they lasted longer in Italy, although often reduced to a thin gold band depicting the outer edge of the nimbus, usual for example in
Giovanni Bellini Giovanni Bellini (; c. 1430 – 26 November 1516) was an Italian Renaissance painter, probably the best known of the Bellini family of Venetian painters. He was raised in the household of Jacopo Bellini, formerly thought to have been his father ...
. Christ began to be shown with a plain halo.
Fra Angelico Fra Angelico (born Guido di Pietro; February 18, 1455) was an Italians, Italian List of Italian painters, painter of the Early Italian Renaissance, Renaissance, described by Giorgio Vasari, Vasari in his ''Lives of the Artists'' as having "a r ...
, himself a
monk A monk (, from el, μοναχός, ''monachos'', "single, solitary" via Latin ) is a person who practices religious asceticism by monastic living, either alone or with any number of other monks. A monk may be a person who decides to dedicat ...
, was a conservative as far as haloes are concerned, and some of his paintings demonstrate the problems well, as in several of his more crowded compositions, where they are shown as solid gold disks on the same plane as the picture surface, it becomes difficult to prevent them obstructing other figures. At the same time they were useful in crowded narrative scenes for distinguishing the main, identifiable, figures from the mass of a crowd.
Giotto Giotto di Bondone (; – January 8, 1337), known mononymously as Giotto ( , ) and latinisation of names, Latinised as Giottus, was an List of Italian painters, Italian painter and architect from Florence during the Late Middle Ages. He worked ...
's Lamentation of Christ from the
Scrovegni Chapel The Scrovegni Chapel ( it, Cappella degli Scrovegni ), also known as the Arena Chapel, is a small church, adjacent to the Augustinian order, Augustinian monastery, the ''Monastero degli Eremitani'' in Padua, Italy, Padua, region of Veneto, I ...
has eight figures with haloes and ten without, to whom the viewer knows they are not meant to attach a specific identity. In the same way, a ''Baptism of Christ'' by
Perugino Pietro Perugino (, ; – 1523), born Pietro Vannucci, was an Italian Renaissance Painting, painter of the Umbrian school, who developed some of the qualities that found classic expression in the High Renaissance. Raphael was his most famous pup ...
in Vienna gives neither Christ nor
John the Baptist John the Baptist or , , or , ;Wetterau, Bruce. ''World history''. New York: Henry Holt and Company. 1994. syc, ܝܘܿܚܲܢܵܢ ܡܲܥܡܕ݂ܵܢܵܐ, Yoḥanān Maʿmḏānā; he, יוחנן המטביל, Yohanān HaMatbil; la, Ioannes Bapti ...
haloes, as sufficiently recognisable without them, but a saint in the background, not usually present in this scene, has a ring halo to denote his status. In the
High Renaissance In art history, the High Renaissance was a short period of the most exceptional artistic production in the Italian states, particularly Rome, capital of the Papal States, and in Florence, during the Italian Renaissance. Most art historians stat ...
, even most Italian painters dispensed with haloes altogether, but in the Church's reaction to the
Protestant Reformation The Reformation (alternatively named the Protestant Reformation or the European Reformation) was a major movement within Western Christianity in 16th-century Europe that posed a religious and political challenge to the Catholic Church and in ...
, that culminated in the decrees on images of the Council of Trent of 1563, their use was mandated by clerical writers on religious art such as Molanus and Saint
Carlo Borromeo Charles Borromeo ( it, Carlo Borromeo; la, Carolus Borromeus; 2 October 1538 – 3 November 1584) was the Archdiocese of Milan, Archbishop of Milan from 1564 to 1584 and a Cardinal (Catholicism), cardinal of the Catholic Church. He was a lead ...
. Figures were placed where natural light sources would highlight their heads, or instead more discreet quasi-naturalistic flickering or glowing light was shown around the head of Christ and other figures (perhaps pioneered by
Titian Tiziano Vecelli or Vecellio (; 27 August 1576), known in English as Titian ( ), was an Italians, Italian (Republic of Venice, Venetian) painter of the Renaissance, considered the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian school (art), ...
in his late period).
Rembrandt Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (, ; 15 July 1606 – 4 October 1669), usually simply known as Rembrandt, was a Dutch Golden Age painter, printmaker and Drawing, draughtsman. An innovative and prolific Old Masters, master in three art medi ...
's
etching Etching is traditionally the process of using strong acid or mordant to cut into the unprotected parts of a metal surface to create a design in Intaglio (printmaking), intaglio (incised) in the metal. In modern manufacturing, other chemicals may ...
s, for example, show a variety of solutions of all of these types, as well as a majority with no halo effect at all. The disk halo was rarely used for figures from
classical mythology Classical mythology, Greco-Roman mythology, or Greek and Roman mythology is both the body of and the study of myths from the ancient Greeks and ancient Romans as they are used or transformed by reception theory, cultural reception. Along with Anc ...
in the Renaissance, although they are sometimes seen, especially in the classical radiant form, in
Mannerist Mannerism, which may also be known as Late Renaissance, is a Style (visual arts), style in European art that emerged in the later years of the Italian High Renaissance around 1520, spreading by about 1530 and lasting until about the end of the 1 ...
and
Baroque The Baroque (, ; ) is a Style (visual arts), style of Baroque architecture, architecture, Baroque music, music, Baroque dance, dance, Baroque painting, painting, Baroque sculpture, sculpture, poetry, and other arts that flourished in Europe from ...
art. By the 19th century haloes had become unusual in Western mainstream art, although retained in iconic and popular images, and sometimes as a medievalising effect. When
John Millais Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Baronet, ( , ; 8 June 1829 – 13 August 1896) was an English painter and illustrator who was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He was a child prodigy who, aged eleven, became the youngest s ...
gives his otherwise realist '' St Stephen'' (1895) a ring halo, it seems rather surprising. In popular graphic culture, a simple ring has become the predominant representation of a halo since at least the late 19th century, as seen for example in the logo for the
Simon Templar ''The Saint'' is the nickname of the fictional character Simon Templar, featured in a series of novels and short stories by Leslie Charteris published between 1928 and 1963. After that date, other authors collaborated with Charteris on books unt ...
("The Saint") series of novels and other adaptations.


Spiritual significance in Christianity

The early
Church Fathers The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were ancient and influential Christian theologians and writers who established the intellectual and doctrinal foundations of Christianity. The historical pe ...
expended much rhetorical energy on conceptions of God as a source of light; among other things this was because "in the controversies in the 4th century over the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son, the relation of the ray to the source was the most cogent example of emanation and of distinct forms with a common substance" – key concepts in the theological thought of the time. A more
Catholic The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with 1.3 billion baptized Catholics worldwide . It is among the world's oldest and largest international institutions, and has played a ...
interpretation is that the halo represents the light of divine grace suffusing the soul, which is perfectly united and in harmony with the physical body. In the theology of the
Eastern Orthodox Church The Eastern Orthodox Church, also called the Orthodox Church, is the List of Christian denominations by number of members, second-largest Christian church, with approximately 220 million baptized members. It operates as a Communion (Christ ...
, an
icon An icon () is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, in the cultures of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Catholic Church, Catholic churches. They are not simply artworks; "an icon is a sacred image used in religious devo ...
is a "window into heaven" through which Christ and the Saints in heaven can be seen and communicated with. The
gold ground Gold ground (both a noun and adjective) or gold-ground (adjective) is a term in art history for a style of images with all or most of the background in a solid gold colour. Historically, real gold leaf Gold leaf is gold that has been hamm ...
of the icon indicates that what is depicted is in heaven. The halo is a symbol of the Uncreated Light (Greek: Ἄκτιστον Φῶς) or
grace Grace may refer to: Places United States * Grace, Idaho, a city * Grace (CTA station), Chicago Transit Authority's Howard Line, Illinois * Little Goose Creek (Kentucky), location of Grace post office * Grace, Carroll County, Missouri, an unincor ...
of God shining forth through the icon.
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (or Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite) was a Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece, a country in Southern Europe: *Greeks, an ethnic group. *Greek language, a branch of the ...
in his '' Celestial Hierarchies'' speaks of the angels and saints being illuminated by the grace of God, and in turn illumining others.


Gallery – Christian art

File:Justinian.jpg, The Emperor
Justinian Justinian I (; la, Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus, ; grc-gre, Ἰουστινιανός ; 48214 November 565), also known as Justinian the Great, was the Eastern Roman emperor from 527 to 565. His reign is marked by the ambitious but ...
(and the Empress Theodora) are haloed in mosaics at the
Basilica of San Vitale The Basilica of San Vitale is a late antique Church (building), church in Ravenna, Italy. The sixth-century church is an important surviving example of early Christian Byzantine art and Byzantine architecture, architecture. It is one of eight st ...
, Ravenna, 548. See here for earlier and here for later examples. File:Tetraevangelia of Tsar Ivan Alexander.jpg, Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria, 1355–56; the whole royal family have haloes. File:Giotto - Scrovegni - -29- - Last Supper.jpg,
Giotto Giotto di Bondone (; – January 8, 1337), known mononymously as Giotto ( , ) and latinisation of names, Latinised as Giottus, was an List of Italian painters, Italian painter and architect from Florence during the Late Middle Ages. He worked ...
Scrovegni Chapel The Scrovegni Chapel ( it, Cappella degli Scrovegni ), also known as the Arena Chapel, is a small church, adjacent to the Augustinian order, Augustinian monastery, the ''Monastero degli Eremitani'' in Padua, Italy, Padua, region of Veneto, I ...
, 1305, with flat perspectival haloes; the view from behind causes difficulties, and John's halo has to be reduced in size. File:Duccio di Buoninsegna 017.jpg, ''The risen Christ appearing to the Eleven'' (Luke 24,36-49) from
Duccio Duccio di Buoninsegna ( , ; – ) was an Italian painter active in Siena, Tuscany, in the late 13th and early 14th century. He was hired throughout his life to complete many important works in government and religious buildings around Italy. Ducc ...
's '' Maestà''. Christ has a plain halo; the Apostles only have them where they will not seriously interfere with the composition. File:Robert Campin - The Virgin and Child before a Firescreen (National Gallery London).jpg,
Netherlandish The Low Countries comprise the coastal Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta region in Western Europe, whose definition usually includes the modern countries of Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands. Both Belgium and the Netherlands derived their n ...
, before 1430. A religious scene where objects in a realistic domestic setting contain symbolism. A wicker firescreen serves as a halo. File:Pisanello 014.jpg, Mary above has a large
aureole An aureola or aureole (diminutive of Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then k ...
, St Anthony has a disk halo in perspective, but this would spoil the appearance of St George's hat.
Pisanello Pisanello (c. 1380/1395c. 1450/1455), born Antonio di Puccio Pisano or Antonio di Puccio da Cereto, also erroneously called Vittore Pisano by Giorgio Vasari, was one of the most distinguished painters of the early Italian Renaissance and Quattroc ...
, 1430s File:Fra Angelico 005.jpg,
Fra Angelico Fra Angelico (born Guido di Pietro; February 18, 1455) was an Italians, Italian List of Italian painters, painter of the Early Italian Renaissance, Renaissance, described by Giorgio Vasari, Vasari in his ''Lives of the Artists'' as having "a r ...
1450, Mary's halo is in perspective,
Joseph Joseph is a common male given name A given name (also known as a forename or first name) is the part of a personal name quoted in that identifies a person, potentially with a middle name as well, and differentiates that person from the o ...
's is not. Jesus still has a cruciform halo. File:Hans Leonhard Schäufelein - Abendmahl.jpg, The Lutheran Hans Leonhard Schäufelein shows only Christ with a halo in this ''Last Supper'' of 1515. File:Simon ushakov last supper 1685.jpg, In Simon Ushakov's
icon An icon () is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, in the cultures of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Catholic Church, Catholic churches. They are not simply artworks; "an icon is a sacred image used in religious devo ...
of ''
The Last Supper Image:The Last Supper - Leonardo Da Vinci - High Resolution 32x16.jpg, 400px, alt=''The Last Supper'' by Leonardo da Vinci - Clickable Image, Depictions of the Last Supper in Christian art have been undertaken by artistic masters for centuries, ...
'' (1685) eleven of the
twelve apostles In Christian theology Christian theology is the theology of Christianity, Christian belief and practice. Such study concentrates primarily upon the texts of the Old Testament and of the New Testament, as well as on Christian tradition. C ...
have haloes: only
Judas Iscariot Judas Iscariot (; grc-x-biblical, Ἰούδας Ἰσκαριώτης; syc, ܝܗܘܕܐ ܣܟܪܝܘܛܐ; died AD) was a Disciple (Christianity), disciple and one of the original Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ (title), Christ. According to a ...
does not. File:Salvatormundi.jpg, ''
Salvator Mundi , Latin for Saviour of the World, is a subject in iconography depicting Christ with his right hand raised in Blessing (Roman Catholic Church), blessing and his left hand holding an Globus cruciger, orb (frequently surmounted by a cross), known a ...
'', 1570, by
Titian Tiziano Vecelli or Vecellio (; 27 August 1576), known in English as Titian ( ), was an Italians, Italian (Republic of Venice, Venetian) painter of the Renaissance, considered the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian school (art), ...
. From the late Renaissance a more "naturalistic" form of halo was often preferred. File:Mary Wollstonecraft Original Stories from Real Life copy 1 object 1 - Look what a fine morning it is.jpg,
William Blake William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his life, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the Romantic poetry, poetry and visual art of t ...
uses the hats of the two girls to suggest haloes in the frontispiece to
Mary Wollstonecraft Mary Wollstonecraft (, ; 27 April 1759 – 10 September 1797) was a British writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights. Until the late 20th century, Wollstonecraft's life, which encompassed several unconventional personal relationsh ...
's '' Original Stories from Real Life'', 1791. File:L F Schnorr von Carolsfeld Die drei Marien am Grab Jesu.jpg,
Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (26 March 1794 – 24 May 1872) () was a German Painting, painter, chiefly of Biblical subjects. As a young man he associated with the painters of the Nazarene movement who revived the florid Renaissance style in re ...
was a member of the
Nazarene movement The epithet Nazarene was adopted by a group of early 19th-century German Romanticism, German Romantic painters who aimed to revive spirituality in art. The name Nazarene came from a term of derision used against them for their affectation of a b ...
that looked back to medieval art. However, in ''The Three Marys at the Tomb'', 1835, only the angel has a halo.


Origins and usage of the different terms

The distinction between the alternative terms used in English for various types of halo is rather unclear. The oldest term in English is "glory", the only one available in the
Middle Ages In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period lasted approximately from the late 5th to the late 15th centuries, similar to the Post-classical, post-classical period of World history (field), global history. It began with t ...
, but now largely obsolete. It came from the French which has much the same range of meanings as "glory". "Gloriole" does not appear in this sense until 1844, being a modern invention, as a diminutive, in French also. "Halo" is first found in English in this sense in 1646 (nearly a century after the optical or astronomical sense). Both "halos" and "haloes" may be used as plural forms, and halo may be used as a verb. Halo comes originally from the Greek for "threshing-floor" – a circular, slightly sloping area kept very clean, around which slaves or oxen walked to thresh the grain. In Greek, this came to mean a divine, bright disk. means "a cloud" in
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
, and is found as "a divine cloud" in 1616, whereas as "a bright or golden disk surrounding the head" it does not appear until 1727. The plural is correct but "rare"; "nimbuses" is not in the OED but sometimes used. is an obsolete form of the noun, but not a verb, except that the obsolete "nimbated", like the commoner "nimbate", means "furnished with a nimbus". It is sometimes preferred by art-historians, as sounding more technical than halo. , from the Latin for "golden", has been used in English as a term for a gold crown, especially that traditionally considered the reward of
martyr A martyr (, ''mártys'', "witness", or , ''marturia'', Word stem, stem , ''martyr-'') is someone who suffers persecution and death for advocating, renouncing, or refusing to renounce or advocate, a religious belief or other cause as demanded by a ...
s, since the Middle Ages (OED 1220). However, the first use recorded as a term for a halo is in 1848, very shortly after which matters were greatly complicated by the publication in 1851 of the English translation of Adolphe Napoléon Didron's important ''Christian Iconography: Or, The History of Christian Art in the Middle Ages''. This, by what the OED calls a "strange blunder", derived the word from the Latin as a diminutive, and also defined it as meaning a halo or glory covering the whole body, whilst saying that "nimbus" referred only to a halo around the head. This, according to the OED, reversed the historical usage of both words, but whilst Didron's diktat was "not accepted in France", the OED noted it had already been picked up by several English dictionaries, and influenced usage in English, which still seems to be the case, as the word "nimbus" is mostly found describing whole-body haloes, and seems to have also influenced "gloriole" in the same direction. The only English term that unequivocally means a full-body halo, and cannot be used for a circular disk around the head is "
mandorla A mandorla is an almond-shaped aureola, i.e. a frame that surrounds the totality of an iconographic figure. It is usually synonymous with ''vesica piscis, vesica'', a lens shape. Mandorlas often surround the figures of Jesus Christ and the Virgi ...
", first occurring in 1883. However, this term, which is the Italian word for "
almond The almond (''Prunus amygdalus'', Synonym (taxonomy)#Botany, syn. ''Prunus dulcis'') is a species of tree native to Iran and surrounding countries, including the Levant. The almond is also the name of the edible and widely cultivated seed of th ...
", is usually reserved for the
vesica piscis The vesica piscis is a type of Lens (geometry), lens, a mathematical shape formed by the Intersection (Euclidean geometry), intersection of two disk (mathematics), disks with the same radius, intersecting in such a way that the center of each dis ...
shape, at least in describing Christian art. In discussing Asian art, it is used more widely. Otherwise, there could be said to be an excess of words that could refer to either a head-disk or a full-body halo, and no word that clearly denotes a full-body halo that is not vesica piscis shaped. "Halo" by itself, according to recent dictionaries, means only a circle around the head, although Rhie and Thurman use the word also for circular full-body aureoles.op & pages cit. The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1911 (link above) has a further set of meanings for these terms, including glory.


See also

*
Aura (paranormal) According to spiritual beliefs, an aura or Energy (esotericism), energy field is a colored emanation said to enclose a human body or any animal or object. In some esoteric positions, the aura is described as a subtle body. Psychics and holistic ...
*
Aureola An aureola or aureole (diminutive of Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then k ...
*
Crown of Immortality The Crown of Immortality is a literary and religious metaphor traditionally represented in art first as a laurel wreath and later as a symbolic circle of stars (often a Crown (headgear), crown, tiara, Halo (religious iconography), halo or aureola ...
*
Glory (optical phenomenon) A glory is an optical phenomenon, resembling an iconic saint's halo (religious iconography), halo around the shadow of the observer's head, caused by sunlight or (more rarely) moonlight interacting with the tiny water drop (liquid), droplets th ...
* Glory in art * Lesya * Velificatio


Notes


References

* Aster, Shawn Zelig, ''The Unbeatable Light: Melammu and Its Biblical Parallels'', Alter Orient und Altes Testament vol. 384 (Münster), 2012, * Crill, Rosemary, and Jariwala, Kapil. ''The Indian Portrait, 1560–1860'',
National Portrait Gallery, London The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) is an art gallery An art gallery is a room or a building in which visual art is displayed. In Western cultures from the mid-15th century, a gallery was any long, narrow covered passage along a wall, first ...
, 2010, * Didron, Adolphe Napoléon
''Christian Iconography: Or, The History of Christian Art in the Middle Ages''
Translated by Ellen J. Millington, H. G. Bohn, (Original from Harvard University, Digitized for Google Books) – Volume I, Part I (pp. 25–165) is concerned with the halo in its different forms, though the book is not up to date. * Dodwell, C. R., ''The Pictorial arts of the West, 800–1200'', 1993, Yale UP, * Rhie, Marylin and Thurman, Robert (eds.): ''Wisdom And Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet'', 1991, * Schiller, Gertrud, ''Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. I'', 1971 (English trans from German), Lund Humphries, London,


Further reading

* Ainsworth, Maryan W., "Intentional Alterations of Early Netherlandish Paintings", ''Metropolitan Museum Journal'', Vol. 40, Essays in Memory of John M. Brealey (2005), pp. 51–65, 10, University of Chicago Press on behalf of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, – on the later addition and removal of halos


External links


Article on some early Japanese Buddhist haloes


{{Authority control Ancient Greek art Buddhist art Christian iconography Iconography Religious iconography Visual motifs