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Oscar Gustav Rejlander (1814-75)

'Non Angeli sed Angli' 1857

RCIN 2906215

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Prince Albert admired and collected a variety of works by the photographer Oscar Gustav Rejlander. Like the Prince, Rejlander held a strong appreciation of Renaissance artists, including Raphael. This photograph appropriates Raphael's Sistine Madonna, as the children are posed to resemble the putti on the lower half of Raphael's painting. This imitation and appropriation of paintings in photographs was not uncommon as photographers began to explore the artistic capabilities of the medium.

The title of this photograph, which translates to 'not Angels, but Angles', has a double meaning. It is a play on words, as these are not the angels from the Sistine Madonna, but ordinary English children. The title also refers to a comment reputedly made by St Gregory the Great when he saw some English children in a slave market in Rome. When he asked what was the name of that nation from where they had come, he was answered that they were called ‘Angles’. He responded that they indeed had ‘angelic faces’ becoming of such ‘coheirs with the angels in heaven’.