In the mid-nineties, Belgian sculptor Berlinde De Bruyckere (Gent 1964) conquered the art world with polyester castings of dying and mutilated horses, covered with horse skin. Since then, the artist focuses on the human body which she - distorts, mutilates and is always faceless - builds up out of separate wax casts. These are often horrific creatures that look uncomfortably realistic and when chained on a stake, hanging loosely over a table or trapped in a cabinet, evoke a mixture of disgust and compassion.  

As the daughter of a butcher and through spending many years in a boarding school ruled by nuns, De Bruyckere has been familiar with age-old themes like suffering and death, both in a physical and spiritual sense. The artist is not religious. Art history, mythology and religious writings are the sources from which she draws her inspiration. These stories and images express physical and emotional pain and relief.

With the angel-like figure Arcangelo III, De Bruyckere reverts to an early motif in her work. The suffocating layer of colourful blankets, that at that time concealed her naked bodies for the most part, are now replaced by a heavy cloak made of animal skin in wax. Standing on its toes, the almost floating figure is reached out to heaven, while its body in a way slightly bends over towards us, the viewer. With Arcangelo III the artist illustrates the alliance between heaven and earth and thus creates a contemporary symbol of consolation and reconciliation.  

Arcangelo III is created during, and is closely linked to, the isolation of the corona crisis. The figure of the angel protects us from a lonely existence and, more important, a lonely death. De Bruyckere started working with the concept of ‘the angel’ after the Belgian newspaper De Standaard asked her in 2020 which artwork she would wish to have with her during quarantine. She picked Cristo morto sorretto da un angelo (1502-1510) by Giorgione: ‘Suddenly I do not see Christ in that dead body anymore,’ she tells the newspaper. ‘The angel is an archetype, is very archaic and nevertheless still invades our personal life.’

Arcangelo III is purchased with the support of the VriendenLoterij on the occasion of the exhibition Angel’s Throat, which was on view from February 10th until October 3rd 2021 at the Bonnefanten.


Berlinde De Bruyckere, Arcangelo III, 2020
Object number: 1006578
Wax, wood, animal hair, metal, epoxy, 300.5 x 61 x 67 cm
Collectie Bonnefanten, acquired with support of the VriendenLoterij.
Photographer: Peter Cox