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Angel Appearing to Shepherds

Purchased in 1916 for the early Fine Arts Department teaching collection, this study represents the height of English Romanticism. Linnell, together with his friend William Blake and his son-in-law Samuel Palmer, advocated the plein air study of nature combined with spiritualism. The landscape was viewed as a metaphor for God’s creation. In the 1820s, following a religious conversion, Linnell turned to a more direct interpretation of religious subject matter. Often combining scriptural narrative with the local topography of England and Wales, he strove to create a religious landscape attuned to Anglican Protestant beliefs. Among his favorite themes was man’s impotence in the face of God, as seen in this sketch of shepherds witnessing the heralding of the angel at Christ’s birth.

John Linnell the Elder
British, 1792–1882
Angel Appearing to Shepherds
ca. 1820–50
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, crayon, and black ink on paper
Sheet (irregular): 7 1/16 x 4 3/8 in. (17.9 x 11.1 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, former Fine Arts Collection, 92.84