The Destroying Angel and Daemons of Evil Interrupting the Orgies of the Vicious and Intemperate

Painting of an angel hovering over a crowd of angels and humans
The Destroying Angel and Daemons of Evil Interrupting the Orgies of the Vicious and Intemperate

The Destroying Angel and Daemons of Evil Interrupting the Orgies of the Vicious and Intemperate, also known as The Destroying Angel and Daemons Inflicting Divine Vengeance on the Wicked and Intemperate [1] and The Destruction of the Temple of Vice, [2] is an oil painting on canvas by English artist William Etty, first exhibited in 1832. Etty had become famous for nude paintings, and acquired a reputation for tastelessness, indecency and a lack of creativity. With The Destroying Angel he hoped to disprove his critics with an openly moral piece. The painting is 127.8 cm by 101.9 cm (50 in by 40 in) and depicts a classical temple under attack from a destroying angel and a group of daemons. Some of the human occupants are dead or unconscious, others flee in terror or struggle helplessly against the daemons.

When first exhibited in 1832, The Destroying Angel was widely praised for its technical brilliance, but critics were divided on the subject matter. Some praised its vividness and ability to mix fear and beauty without lowering into tastelessness; others criticised its thematic matter as inappropriate, and chastised Etty for wasting his talents. The painting changed the manner in which art critics viewed the artist; some saw it as indicating previously unseen character depths, others considered it a renunciation of his previous works. In 1854 Henry Payne, who had commissioned the painting, sold it to Sir Joseph Whitworth. Whitworth donated it in 1882 to the Manchester Art Gallery, where it remains.


Painting of naked people on a boat
Youth on the Prow, and Pleasure at the Helm was described by The Morning Chronicle as "an indulgence of what we once hoped a classical, but which are now convinced, is a lascivious mind". [3]

William Etty (1787–1849), the seventh son of a York baker and miller, [4] had originally been an apprentice printer in Hull, [5] but on completing his seven-year apprenticeship at the age of 18 moved to London to become an artist. [4] Strongly influenced by the works of Titian and Rubens, he became famous for painting nude figures in biblical, literary and mythological settings. [6] Many of his peers greatly admired him, and he was elected a full Royal Academician in 1828, ahead of John Constable. [7]

Between 1820 and 1829 Etty exhibited 15 paintings, of which 14 depicted nude figures. [8] While some nude paintings by foreign artists existed in private collections, England had no tradition of nude painting and the display and distribution of nude material to the public had been suppressed since the 1787 Proclamation for the Discouragement of Vice. [9] Etty was the first British artist to specialise in the nude, and the reaction of the lower classes to these paintings caused concern throughout the 19th century. [10] Although his portraits of male nudes were generally well received, [A] many critics condemned his repeated depictions of female nudity as indecent. [6] [8] Etty's Youth on the Prow, and Pleasure at the Helm, completed in 1830 and exhibited in 1832, attracted scathing criticism for its supposed seductive and sensual nature, leading The Morning Chronicle to comment that "[Etty] should not persist, with an unhallowed fancy, to pursue Nature to her holy recesses. He is a laborious draughtsman, and a beautiful colourist; but he has not taste or chastity of mind enough to venture on the naked truth." [3]

Needled by repeated attacks from The Morning Chronicle on his supposed indecency, poor taste and lack of creativity, Etty determined to produce a work that would prove his detractors wrong. [12] The result was The Destroying Angel and Daemons of Evil Interrupting the Orgies of the Vicious and Intemperate. [13]

The Destroying Angel was commissioned by Henry Payne of Leicester in 1822, on a promise of 60  guineas (about £5,300 in today's terms [14]) when complete. [2] Payne had granted Etty complete freedom in the creation of the piece, [13] but Etty had done little with the notion until, stung by The Morning Chronicle's criticism, he decided to return to the theme, completing it in 1832. [13] As Etty had become a more prominent painter in the meantime, Payne paid him £130 (about £11,000 in today's terms [14]) for the piece. [2] [15] The work is thought to have been inspired by the works of John Milton and Alexander Pope, by Michelangelo's The Last Judgment and possibly by the French Revolution of 1830, [16] [17] in which Etty had been caught up during a visit to Paris to study in the Louvre. [1] The topic was one to which Etty felt particularly close, saying that he had put his "whole soul" into the piece. [18]