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.

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