Ukraine, Guernica, and Angels

Michael Galovic, Ukraine Response, 2022. Egg tempera and gold leaf on linen on board, 170 x 80 cm. The collection of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, Canberra, Australia.

Michael Galovic has created a rich and complex work in response to the bleak situation in Ukraine. The work incorporates three juxtaposed images whose origins reach back to the tenth century, which are backgrounded by Pablo Picasso’s profound depiction of the destruction of Guernica, bombed by Nazi planes in 1937. Guernica was a symbolic target, being the first place where democracy was established in Spain’s Basque region.

Each of the three superimposed images is particularly apposite to the situation in Ukraine. The top image is an ethereal rendering of the Archangel Michael’s defeat of Satan in the form of a dragon, both as imagined in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry and as described in the Book of Revelation: ‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven’ (Rev. 12.7–8). St. Michael is the patron saint of Kyiv, possibly since its founding in c. 882, and certainly since the eleventh century.

The second image is an icon of the Theotokos and infant Jesus. In 1037, Yaroslav the Wise, the Grand Prince of Kyiv, dedicated Ukraine to Mary. She is revered and sometimes referred to as the ‘Queen of Ukraine’. In a similar vein, on the Feast of the Annunciation this year, Pope Francis pronounced an Act of Consecration: ‘Mother of God and our mother, to your Immaculate Heart we solemnly entrust and consecrate ourselves, the church and all humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine’.

The third image is that of a Hellmouth, an image envisaging hell as the gaping mouth of a huge monster. Galovic has used a particularly vivid image from the Winchester Psalter of the twelfth century, where an angel is portrayed locking the gate of hell on the damned, who are being devoured by demons. The completed work is phenomenal, in every sense of the word!

Picasso’s Guernica captured the first instance in history of the saturation bombing of a civilian target – an occurrence that has become all too common in Ukraine. The horror and destruction of Guernica unalloyed by any sense of hope or renewal. Galovic has overlaid this bleakness with three images that challenge that evocation of despair. At the centre is the Theotokos and infant Jesus. The tranquillity of this image contrasts with the dynamism of the other two images: the Archangel Michael is captured in the moment of victory, with the defeated dragon falling from the sky, and, in the Hellmouth, the damned are being devoured by demons as an angel locks the gates of Hell.

The balance of concepts and ideas is formidable – each element is a part of history, yet given new sense and relevance in this new context. The sheer amount of thought, care, and effort that has gone into this project is awe-inspiring.

A time-lapse video of the creation of the work was filmed by Gustav Daroczy,

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Kerrie Magee has an MA in Medieval Studies and lives in the area of the Wallumedegal people. Michael Galovic is a renowned iconographer living in the area of the Darkinjung people.

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