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.” 

From a Psalter
English, 13th Century
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G25, fol. 1
But just what does it mean to “come upon” or to “overshadow”?  Scholars and then artists began to propose possible means.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, Pitti Gallery
Titian, Annunciation
Italian, 1562-1564
Venice, Church of San Salvador
El Greco, Annunciation
Greco-Spanish, 1596-1600
Madrid, Museo 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 del Prado
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Annunciation
Italian, 1724-1725
St. Petersburg, Hermitage Museum
Giambattista Pittoni, Annunciation
Italian, 1758
Venice, Galleria dell'Accademia

© 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.

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