Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Friday 30 July |
Saint of the Day: Bl. Solanus Casey
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

Is there a difference between an aureole, a halo, and a mandorla?

LAST JUDGEMENT

Michelangelo | Public Domain

Daniel Esparza - published on 10/31/19

Often confused with each other, aureoles and “almonds” play a key role in Christian iconography.

Several different symbols have been used in Christian art to suggest the divine nature or the holiness of the persons portrayed in religious imagery. Some of them might be attributes assigned to different saints because of some biographical or hagiographical facts. Others might be allegories pointing at some specific exegetical reading of a biblical passage. Others might be titles granted to either biblical figures or characters belonging to the Christian tradition.

But some others are a bit more universal, less dependent of the individual traits of the person being portrayed. In general, when Christian art wants to represent either the divinity itself or a saint, it uses aureoles, mandorlas, halos, and nimbi. But are these for everyone?

Aureoles and mandorlas seem to be exclusively used to represent the Trinity, and sometimes the Virgin Mary. Saints were almost always represented with just a halo, a zone of light (generally a round one) surrounding their heads, or behind them. Why is this the case?


SAINT FRANCIS,HALO

Read more:
The ancient, secular reason why saints are shown with halos

The aureole is, in fact, a symbol of divinity and, in that sense, also of supreme power (the kind of power only attributable to God). Therefore, its use has been reserved for representations of the divinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The use of an aureole, however, has been extended only to representations of the Virgin Mary, she being the Mother of God, the perfect daughter of the Father, and the Full of Grace (of the Spirit).

An aureole, unlike a halo, is a whole field of radiance (and not just a small round illuminated zone around the head) and splendor that encircles the whole body of the character represented (most of the time, that of Christ). In some cases, as George Ferguson explains in his Signs and Symbols in Christian art, “the aureole follows the form of the body and appears to emerge from it. In other instances, it is removed from the body and is composed of many luminous rays issuing from a central point.”

If the earlier aureoles we find in Christian art were often white, by the Renaissance we already find golden aureoles, giving the impression of bright, majestic light. However, blue aureoles (indicative of celestial glory) would also be relatively common.

Mandorlas, on the other hand (also known as “almonds,” mandorla meaning precisely that in Italian) are a kind of aureoles that are almond-shaped. In the mandorla, Ferguson continues, “the extended rays of the aureole are enclosed in an almond-shaped framework that surrounds the body of the person depicted.” Most of the time, mandorlas are given to Christ in images of the Last Judgment and, on some other occasions, to the Virgin Mary (as in, for example, representations of her Assumption).

Tags:
ArtReligious symbolism
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
HIDILYN DIAZ
Cerith Gardiner
Gold-winning Filipina Olympian shares her Miraculous Medal for th...
2
Zelda Caldwell
World-record winning gymnast Simone Biles leans on her Catholic f...
3
SIMONE BILES
Cerith Gardiner
Simone Biles leaves the Olympics with an important lesson for her...
4
ORGAN
J-P Mauro
Reconstructing a 12th-century pipe organ discovered in the Holy L...
5
PRINCESS DIANA AND MOTHER TERESA
Mathilde De Robien
Did you know Princess Di was buried with a rosary?
6
SAINT ANTHONY OF PADUA
Philip Kosloski
This prayer to St. Anthony is said to have “never been know...
7
Lauren Daigle
J-P Mauro
After 3 years Lauren Daigle ousts herself from #1 Billboard spot
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.