Contents

Trans-substantial Catholics

Watch this. What are the priests doing? Catholic Litmus Test If you are Catholic, then I hope for the sake of your soul you said he is welcoming Christ bodily into the world. If you didn’t you aren’t looking too […]


Poor Hanno

According to the pop-psychologist-pseudo-science writer Malcolm Gladwell in his magnum lite-opus, the Tipping Point we as a species need risk takers. Individuals who are willing to put it all on the line in pursuit of a goal will, if they […]


Intelligence and Happiness?

A while ago, the Inquisition pondered the nature of intelligence, and whether a certain outlook or attendant mental abilities are guides to or from happiness. This has been obliquely in the news of late…


Buried by the Sea

Its odd. Most graveyards in Connemara appear to be near water, if not actually right on the coast. Why? West Galway, or Connemara, has a lot of unused space. Admittedly, much of the land Connemara is industrially and agriculturally useless, […]


Cycling Two Abreast

Cycling two abreast in Ireland is legal, a protected practice, and it is safer.


Indoors / Outdoors (Defuse)

A talk given by The Inquisition at Defuse, on Wednesday 7th November 2012, as part of Designweek in Dublin, Ireland


Nürnburg’s Extra Bombs

Nürnburg got ripped to shreds by Bomber Harris’ boys. By how much appears to be open to debate.


Law & Morality

The preface to HLA Hart’s publication of his 1961 lecture series on the meeting of law and morality is as prevalent today as it ever was.


Foy – The Bodiless Head

A bodiless head is revered as being Saint Foy, who died a cruel death.


Coffee Haters

There are people out there who pretend to like coffee. Coffee Haters – you have been warned.


False Flags 2

False flag, covert ops by Americans against Americans? Sounds crazy, and so it was deemed.


Plastic 55 Years Ago

55 years ago Roland Barthes considered the importance of plastic and what it meant, as a substance and a symbol.


Cesare Borgia’s Party

The Pope, his son and fifty prostitutes – Cesare Borgia’s party.


Marriage – A Potted History

Marriage is thought by many to be a fixed rite, one which is immovable and inflexible. The truth is that it has not always seemed so…


Blinking Morse

The world was shocked when a victim of torture started blinking morse. The story of a US aviator captured in Vietnam.


Synecdoche

Synecdoche is a powerful, expressive linguistic device


The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Contents Page
The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Semper Quarens - Always Looking

Halo Origins

Apollo on the Roman mosaic El-Jem, Tunisia

The halo is a very effective visual device for picking out individuals of particular reverence within a composition. But when you stop and think about it, its also a little arcane and unwieldy, and not just a little bit weird.

The Inquisition set out to find the earliest use of a halo or aura as a visual device, but eventually had to give it up as a bad job; halos existed before they can be truly understood as such. Figures exist with light radiating from their heads in South American cultures, while the Egyptians placed complete and unbroken discs above the heads of their representations.

The Gero Crucifix in Cologne

Definition & Meaning

Before getting into the historical context it might be best to define a halo, its meaning and conceptual origins.

According to the Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, “the halo, or nimbus, is a solar image which possesses much the same significance as the crown and specifically the kingly crown. It is displayed by a radiance around the head and sometimes around the whole body (a mandorla or aureola). This originally solar radiance is a sign of holiness, of sanctity and of the divine. It is a manifestation of the aura.” It goes on to clearly state that the halo is a representation of the emission of light.

The halo is familiar in western iconography and culture as anything from a thin elliptical gold band encircling rapturous ladies in traditional painting, to golden crowns of monarchs (and Jesus’ crown of thorns), to monks’ tonsures to currently being a much-used framing device in less than reverend photography. In short it is a signifier of the bearer’s possession of unique, divine or spiritual qualities.

The halo varies in depiction from the aforementioned ethereal orbits to almost corporeal supra-cranial discs. It has had crosses incorporated in both Byzantine and Celtic contexts to represent the Trinity – the single but divided whole. It has been a soft focus glow, radiating rays and even triangles.

Ra, complete with sun disc

The Earliest?

Well, its frankly impossible to directly attribute the halo’s inception to a certain culture, but it would seem the Egyptians were, if not the originators, then at least, among the earliest adopters. The Egyptian god Ra has the head of a falcon and the sun-disk of Wadjet above his head, in a very early form of halo.

Poseidon mosaic at Bardo

This would tie-in with the area’s familiarity with Zoroastrianism’s emphasis on flames and light as representative of divinity. The Hellenistic and Roman worlds retained the halo for their iconography. This was not just in their visual art – in the Illiad Homer described a supernatural light that frames the head sof warriors in battle. Of course that might just have been huge spatters of blood and gore, but who am I to doubt the veracity of a visual description made by a blind bronze age storyteller?

Bodhisattva at Mogao in Dunhuang, China

Interestingly, there exist many Asian representations of Buddha with a halo which are concurrent with Roman imagery, and are aesthetically closer to more modern interpretations. Although much later in date, masks in South America, as shown above also echo the halo. It is highly improbable these could have been influenced through pre-columbian contact.

A teaching Buddha from India

Alternate Origin

As is the case with such matters of art, time and subjectivity, at least one other theory abounds, and it is a lovely one. The idea is put forward that the halo is actually a very functional and utilitarian device; it was put on Greek sculpture to prevent birds shitting on their heads.

Unfortunately, due to earlier painted imagery using the halo, or variations of it, this thesis sounds unlikely.

Golden mask from Tenochtitlan with emanating halo of solar rays

Bibliography
Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbant, Penguin, 1969
Wikipedia

This article was posted by on Monday, April 19th, 2010 at 02:51.
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