Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Joyful Mysteries – The Annunciation, Part III – In the Garden

The Egerton Master (attributed), Annunciation
From Hours of Rene of Anjou
French (Paris), 1410
London, British Library
MS Egerton 1070, fol. 15v

So far the images of the Annunciation that we have looked at set the scene in a “no-space-space”, with little or no indication of local surroundings.  Now we will look at some that take place in a defined and very special place, the garden. 

Annunciation images set in a garden have a very special resonance.  They hark back to the first garden, the Garden of Eden, in which Adam and Eve were placed by God following their creation (Genesis 2:8) and from which they were excluded following the Fall (Genesis 3:23-24).   

Setting the Annunciation in a garden is a very deliberate reference to the reconstruction of the world which Jesus, as the new Adam (1 Corinthians 15:21-22), was going to accomplish through the “Yes” of Mary, who was seen as the second Eve, a new mother for humanity (For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.”).1   

Melchior Broederlam, Annunciation
Flemish, 1393-1399
Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Some Annunciation garden images make this connection very explicit by including visual references to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.  They may appear as a story seen in the background of the image or as a decorative element within the setting. 2   But, whether or not the reference is shown it is always lingering at the edge of consciousness, just offstage.

Fra Angelico, Annunciation
Italian, 1426
Madrid, Museo del Prado

Another resonance of the garden setting is with the idea of the closed garden, the hortus conclusus.  Invariably the garden in which the Annunciation imagery is set is a walled or otherwise closed garden, though it may have a doorway or gate through which further extensions into space may be seen.

Fra Angelico, Annunciation
Italian, 1442-1444
Florence, Monastery of San Marco

The idea of the enclosed garden as an allegory for Mary’s virginity was a very popular one that rose to popularity from around 1400 and is still operative to some extent.  The idea comes from the Song of Songs, a Biblical text that has from quite early on been interpreted as referring to Mary and from which many of the titles by which she is known derive, such as Tower of Ivory and Tower of David.  The Song of Songs refers to the woman as “A garden enclosed, my sister, my bride, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed!” (Song of Songs 4:12).

from Hours of Louis de Savoie
French (Savoy), 1445-1450
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9473, fol. 17

In addition, earlier interpretations of this passage from the Song of Songs had seen the text as a description of the relationship between Christ and the Church and had also identified Mary as a personification of the Church as well.  3  

Robert Campin, Annunciation
Flemish, c. 1420-1425
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Mary is most frequently presented as seated or standing in a portico or other covered area adjacent to the garden and Gabriel is most frequently shown standing or kneeling within the garden proper in these images.  

Filippo Lippi, Annunciation
Italian, 1448-1450
London, National Gallery

The structures provide a frame for the figure of the Virgin and reinforce the closure implied by the walled garden.  This tells us that Mary is prepared for the angelic encounter, even if she is unaware of being so.  

Fra Carnavale, Annunciation
Italian, ca. 1448
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art

The settings also provide a suitable location for Mary to stand or sit in the proximity of the closed garden while pursuing her daily tasks, which are variously shown as reading, praying or spinning wool. 

Attributed to Petrus Christus, Annunciation
known as the Friedsam Annunciation
Flemish, ca. 1450
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Piero della Francesca, Annunciation
Italian, 1448-1465
Arezzo, Church of San Francesco

Leonardo da Vinci, Annunciation
Italian, 1472-1474
Florence, Uffizi Gallery

Vittore Carpaccio, Annunciation
Italian, 1504
Venice, Galleria Granchett. Ca d'Oro

Andrea del Sarto, Annunciation
Italian, 1512-1513
Florence, Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti

The idea of representing the Annunciation in a garden context did not die out with the end of the Renaissance.  It had a revival in the nineteenth century, especially among the English Pre-Raphaelites.

George Poppleton, Annunciation
English, 1845
Paris, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, Petit Palais

Arthur Hughes, Annunciation
English, ca.1858
Birmingham (UK), Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery

Edward Burne-Jones, Annunciation
English, 1876-1879
Port Sunlight, Lady Lever Art Gallery

Edward Burne-Jones, Annunciation
English, 1888
Rome, St. Paul's Within the Walls Episcopal Church

Frederick James Shields, Annunciation
English, 1894
Manchester UK, Manchester Art Gallery

Luc Olivier Merson, Annunciation
French, 1890
Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts

John William Waterhouse, Annunciation
English, 1914
Private Collection

And it continues today.

John Collier, Annunciation
American, 2000
McKinney, Texas, St. Gabriel Church

John Collier, Annunciation
American, 2008
Charleston, WV, Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral

These recent works by the American John Collier demonstrate that the idea of setting the Annunciation in an outdoor, garden setting, with all its associated references, is one that still has resonance.

© M. Duffy, 2014
  1.  Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies (Adversus haereses), Book III, Chapter 22, Section 4. Translated by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <;.
  2.  See for example my in depth discussion of the Prado Annunciation by Fra Angelico at
  3. Daley, Brian E., "The 'Closed Garden' and the 'Sealed Fountain': Song of Songs 4:12 in the Late Medieval Iconography of Mary", in Elizabeth B. Macdougall, editor, Medieval Gardens, Washington, DC, Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium, 1986, pp. 253-277.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Joyful Mysteries – The Annunciation, Part II – Enter A Dove

Andrea Della Robbia, Annunciation
Italian, ca. 1493
Florence, Spedale degli Innocenti, Cloister
The next group of images I would like to present for the Annunciation is, at first glance, very similar to the Simplest form, except for one detail.  During the course of the eleventh century speculation regarding the mechanism by which the Incarnation physically occurred began to simmer in the Western church.  It is keyed off Mary’s question to the angel “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”  and Gabriel’s reply “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”   (Luke 34-35)

But just what does it mean to “come upon” or to “overshadow”?  Scholars and then artists began to propose possible means.1

From a Psalter
English, 13th Century
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G 25, fol. 1

It is during this time that new images of the Annunciation appeared.  At first glance they look very much like those images that had gone before.  They show the two figures of Gabriel and Mary with little indication of surroundings.  The principle difference is that they include the Dove of the Holy Spirit in flight toward Mary or even perched near her. 

From the Psalter of St. Louis and Blanche of Castille
French (Paris), ca. 1225
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 1186, fol. 16

Master Henri, Annunciation
From Livre d'image de Madame Marie
French (Hainaut), 1285-1288
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition francaise 16251, fol. 20v

From a Psalter
French (Liege), ca, 1250-1300
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS KB 76 G 17, fol. 1v

Jacobus Kokkinobaphi, Annunciation
From Orationes encomiasticae in SS. Virginem Deiparam
Byzantine, First half of the 12th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Grec 1208, fol. 160v
The absence of any sign of a dove in this twelfth Century Byzantine image shows that the questions about the mode of the Incarnation that obsessed the Western Church were unimportant in the East.

Pietro Cavallini, Annunciation
Italian, 1296-1300
Rome, Santa Maria in Trastevere
This Cavallini mosaic and the contemporary image by Torriti show that, even in the highly Byzantinized world of Roman mosaic work, the Western questions applied and the dove appeared.

Jacopo Torriti, Annunciation
Italian, 1296-1300
Rome, Santa Maria Maggiore

Duccio, Annunciation
Italian, 1308-1311
London, National Gallery

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Annunciation
Italian, 1344
Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale

In the earliest images that include the Dove it can frequently be seen close to Mary’s head, or more specifically to her ear, for it was thought that one of the means by which the Incarnation occurred was through her ear.  The idea comes from the idea that Jesus as the Word of God would be able to penetrate through the ear, the organ of hearing.  This fairly primitive, highly material idea was ultimately abandoned and the Dove of the Spirit began to hover more generally, as a more reasonable interpretation of the idea raised by the word "overshadow" from Gabriel's reply to Mary's very reasonable question.  

Richard de Montbaston, Annunciation
From Legenda Aurea by Jacobus de Voragine
French (Paris), 1348
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 241, fol. 31v

Lorenzo Ghiberti, Annunciation
Italian, 1403-1424
Florence, Cathedral Baptistry

Hugo van der Goes, Annunciation
Exterior wings of the Portinari Altarpiece
Flemish, 1476-1479
Florence, Uffizi Gallery

Veit Stoss, Annunciation
German, 1517-1518
Nuremberg, St. Lorenzkirche

As time passed the dove, which had initially been just a dove, begins to be surrounded by bright light, may even be replaced by light alone.  It is from these images that the next significant developments in Annunciation iconography spring.

Andrea del Sarto, Annunciation
Italian, ca. 1528
Florence,  Galleria Palatina, Pitti Palace

Titian, Annunciation
Italian, 1562-1564
Venice, Church of San Salvador

El Greco, Annunciation
Greco-Spanish, 1596-1600
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Peter Paul Rubens, Annunciation
Flemish, 1609-1610
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Hendrick Terbruggen, Annunciation
Dutch, 1624-1625
Private Collection

Nicholas Poussin, Annunciation
French, 1657
London, National Gallery

Bartolome Murillo, Annunciation
Spanish, 1660-1665
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Annunciation
Italian, 1724-1725
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum

Giambattista Pittoni, Annunciation
Italian, 1758
Venice, Galleria dell'Accademia

Franz Ignaz Gunther, Annunciation
German, 1759-1763
Private Collection

Continue reading about the Annunciation in the following posts:
© M. Duffy, 2014
1.     1.  For a detailed description of the history of this question and the ways in which it was answered up to the fifteenth century see the twined articles:
·         Steinberg, Leo.  “How Shall This Be?” Reflections on Filippo Lippi’s “Annunciation” in London, Part I in Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 8, No. 16, 1987, pp. 25-44 and

·         Edgerton, Samuel Y. , Jr. “How Shall This Be?” Reflections on Fiippo Lippi’s “Annunciation” in London, Part II in Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 8, No. 16, 1987, pp. 45-53.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The First Joyful Mystery – The Annunciation, Part I, Simplicity

from Psalter of Ham of Fecamp
French, ca. 1180
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 76 F 13, fol. 14v
“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her."
Luke 1:26-38

The Annunciation of the birth of Jesus to Mary by the angel, Gabriel, is the subject of the first decade of the Joyful Mysteries and of the entire Rosary.  It is also in an even more fundamental way the start of the Rosary itself for it contains within the dialogue between Gabriel and Mary the beginning of the most frequently recited prayer in the Rosary, the Hail Mary or Ave Maria.  The words,  “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you” are taken straight from Gabriel’s mouth to the opening lines of the prayer. 
Capital from the Abbey of St. Ruph in Avignon
French, 1140-1145
Avignon, Musée du Petit Palais

The Annunciation is the foundation of much more than just the Rosary, it is the beginning of the Incarnation of Christ, the re-foundation of the world, the undoing of the sins of Adam and Eve by the new Adam, who is Christ, and the new Eve, who is the sinless Mary.    And, for all these reasons, it is one of the most frequently depicted scenes in all of Western art history. 

Annunciation from a Crozier (Bishop's Staff)
French, First Half of the 13th Century
Paris, Musée national du Moyen Age
Thermes de Cluny

So frequently is it depicted that a search on the phrase “Annunciation iconography” yielded results in the thousands.  On Google Scholar the number of results was 8,910, while on JSTOR it was a whopping 29,000!  Nearly all the results were for studies of a single item of the many thousands of images of the subject that have been executed between the early years of Christianity and today.  Obviously, a study of all these would take years to survey, so I will endeavor to give you an overview of the iconography of the Annunciation as it appears to me from the images I have seen and studied myself, reinforced by selected reference to some of the vast literature on the subject. 

In my description of the iconography of the Annunciation I will make some distinctions based on very simple criteria.  Among them are:  the number of participants, the simplicity or complexity of the presentation, any references to God the Father, to the Holy Spirit and/or to Jesus himself, the presence of witnesses, the location of the event, etc.  Some of the elements are confined to only one category, some of them operate across multiple categories.  I will do the best I can to separate out some of the main themes that run through the depiction of the Annunciation event through the history of art from the middle ages to the Baroque period and beyond, if possible. 

Because there are so many ways in which artists have imagined the scene, even this overview will need to be broken into several essays.  Here is the first.

The Simplest Form

The simplest form of the depiction of the Annunciation involves only the two main characters, Mary and Gabriel, in the simplest of settings, usually in no specific setting at all.  These images tend to be the earliest ones as well.  
from Orations of Gregory Nazianzus
Byzantine, 879-882
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Grec 510, fol. 3

Among the earliest images I could find were some from Greek manuscripts.  This isn’t surprising, since Greek artists were among the earliest to produce works illustrating the Biblical texts.  

 from a Bible
North French, 11th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 592, fol. 18v

from Sacramentary of St. Gereon of Cologne
German (Cologne), 10th - 11th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 817, fol. 12

In addition, these earliest images tend to come from manuscript painting.  Again this is not surprising, since an illustrated book, usually a Bible or service book, existing as it does in the usually protected environment of a monastery or cathedral library, has a better chance of survival than does a wall painting (fresco or mural) which is exposed to the elements to some degree and subject to destruction by war, earthquake or simply changing tastes in style, which resulted as frequently in its destruction as did the other two destructive forces. In addition, manuscripts often traveled, being given as gifts or in exchanges between monasteries or rulers. They were, therefore, an excellent vehicle for the dissemination of images and artistic styles.

The simplest image shows Mary standing confronted by the angel.  Sometimes there is some kind of place filler, such as a stylized plant or other object, between them.  There is minimal or no indication of location.  In a sense, the image is as symbolic as a hieroglyph.  It is meant to remind us of the event and nothing more. 

from a Gospel Book
German (Echternach), 1050-1075
London, British Library
MS Harley 2821, fol. 22

from a Sacramentary
Belgian (Liege), ca.1075
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 819, fol. 78v

This kind of image is found throughout the middle ages, in East and West. It appears in both painting and sculpture and mosaic. And it shows very little development from relatively early times through to the Baroque period. 

French, c.1115-30
Moissac, Church of St. Pierre

Panel from Pulpit in S. Piero Scheraggio in Florence
Italian, ca.1180-1200
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters

Enamel Mors (clasp) from a Cope (vestment)
French (Limoges), 13th Century
Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts

from Prüm Gospel Book
German (Prüm), First third 13th Century
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 17324, fol. 7v

Annunciation Group
French, c. 1211
Reims, Cathedral, West Facade, Central Porch

from a Psalter
German (Franconia), 13th Century
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G 73, fol. 7
One charming detail of this picture is the not very successful
effort made by the artist to show some perspective in painting 
Gabriel's inside wing.  What was not a problem before now seems
to be causing some unease to the painter.

from les Vies des Saints by Jeanne de Montbaston
French (Paris), 1325-1350
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 185, fol. 3
That inside wing seems to have become a problem here too!

from a Breviary
Italian (Umbria), 14th Century
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G 75, fol. 291
This is about the most minimal image of the scene that is possible, with only the hand of the angel visible.

Andrea Orcagna, Annunciation
Marble Tabernacle
Italian, 1359
Florence, Orsanmichele

Donatello, Annunciation
Italian, 1435
Florence, Santa Croce
With the understanding of perspective that was developed during the 15th century the inside wing ceased to be a problem for artists.

There are, of course, variations in how the figures are displayed; whether they both stand, whether they face each other directly, whether Gabriel bows, what gesture each makes, what, if anything each carries, etc.  But because of the simplicity of the image there is no room for much storytelling or for many details of location or suggestions of another dimension to the action.  There are stylistic differences, of course, but overall the image remains a simple, almost a schematic one. 
Hans Memling, Annunciation
Outer wings of a triptych
Flemish, 1467-1470
Bruges, Groeninge Museum

With a few exceptions this simple form went out of frequent use with the dawning of the Renaissance.  Images became more detailed, more circumstantial and more complex.
Annunciation (Platter)
Italian (Umbria), 17th Century
Saint Omer, Musée de l'hotel Sandelin

Alessandro Allori, Annunciation
Italian, 1603
Florence, Galleria dell'Accademia

Adriaen van de Velde, Annunciation
Dutch, 1667
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

But it can still appear, as in the recent work of Susanna Harris Hughes below.  

Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.