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L’Angelo Sterminatore by Mario Ceroli

By Mia Samaniego

Mario Ceroli, (Castel Frentano 1938)
L’Angelo Sterminatore (The Exterminating Angel), 1986
Burnt wood, lead, tin and gold leaf, 70 x 131 x 10 cm
Donated by the artist to Benedict XVI for the 60th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood (2011); later acquired for the Holy Father’s private collection
Cat. 59921

“For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood …the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to smite you.” Exodus 12:23

In the above passage from Exodus, Moses relates to the Israelites God’s command to celebrate the Passover meal with the blood of a first-born lamb smeared across their doorposts. Upon seeing the blood, “the destroyer,” or in other translations, the “exterminating angel” or “the angel of death,” would pass over the houses of the Israelites. He makes an appearance in Exodus and in the Book of Revelation. In the sculpted silhouette L’Angelo Sterminatore (“The Exterminating Angel”), Mario Ceroli depicts this mighty spiritual being from Scripture. 

When I saw L’Angelo Sterminatore in Room 35 of the Vatican Museums, I quickly realized it offered me a surprise as both a (relatively) rare artistic subject and a beautiful medium. 

The artist, Mario Ceroli, crafted this silhouette of an angel out of burnt wood, lead, tin, and gold lining in 1986. The artwork was donated to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in celebration of the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination in 2011. It later joined the collection of the Vatican Museums. Ceroli drew inspiration for the angel’s pose from the famous statue of St. Michael drawing his sword at the top of Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome.

A statue of a person

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The tenth plague in Exodus is a terrifying story, but it always fascinated me even when I was a child. I suppose I believed that God rightly responded to the Egyptians’ pride with his display of his Almighty power, almost as if it was checkmate in a spiritual game of chess. The inflictions the plagues caused were scary, but also an assurance that God is in control. Ceroli captured the power of the angel and its beauty. Angels are mysteriously terrible spiritual beings, even as perfectly good-willed creatures. The gold-leaf is luminescent against the dark background, demonstrating the pure goodness of the angel as it delivers the will of God. In Scripture, men are often afraid to even approach angels. L’Angelo Sterminatore (“The Exterminating Angel“) by Mario Ceroli pleased and surprised me, especially in recalling Exodus.

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