Gold and Charcoal sketch on grey paper for Gloria in Excelsis (1893) by Evelyn De Morgan

‘Gloria in excelsis’ means ‘glory to god on high’ in Latin and is the title of a popular Christian hymn. The opening lines of the hymn are the words spoken to the shepherds by angels in the Nativity Story upon the birth of Christ, according to Luke 2:14 in the Bible. Evelyn De Morgan has referenced both the hymn and the Bible passage in this compositional sketch by giving one of her angels a scroll with the music for the piece and one a harp.

By including music in her works, Evelyn De Morgan achieves a real dynamism. The expressions of the angels are brought to life as we are invited to imagining their singing and playing of this hymn. The movement in the piece is enhanced by the flowing drapery and careful positioning of her models.

As the music plays,  a choir of putti bursts from the heavens, glowing with a golden light. Evelyn De Morgan would create these unusual sketches in gold and charcoal on grey paper to illuminate her religious and spiritual subjects. She used dry pellets of pigment bought from the artists’ colourman, Charles Roberson, to create this unique gold drawing.

The finished painting after this drawing, is highly embellished. The right hand angels wings were replaced with peacock feathers to represent everlasting life. 

Evelyn De Morgan was a religious artist and Biblical stories make up many of the themes of her pictures. She enhances the dreamlike quality of the piece by setting it in a dreamlike landscape, near water, which is symbolic for the passing of the soul at death.

The painting is now in a private collection.