Today is the feast of the Annunciation, that time when the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and announced to her the plan God had for her to bear a holy child who will be the savior of the world. It appears only in the Gospel of Luke.

There's lots of great art out there depicting this scene. Here are a few that I have personally seen and photographed:

Of course, this is probably one of the most familiar images of the Annunciation, painted by Fra Angelico at San Marco in Florence. The folds in the fabric of the clothing is stunning, but most of all the rainbow wings on Gabriel are the most arresting piece of this work. I also love how Mary and Gabriel are sort of bowing to each other with their arms crossed over their chests. Maybe post-pandemic instead of shaking hands with people we should greet them like this.

This also is at San Marco and is by Fra Angelico. He was a master a miniatures and these gilded paintings on wood are truly divine. Here also both Gabriel (who is wearing a stunning robe) and Mary have their arms crossed. Up top is God, sending the Holy Spirit (the dove in the circle) to Mary. God wears a halo, too, and is attended by two cherubs.

This fresco is at Santa Maria Novella in Florence and was painted by Ghirlandaio in the late 15th century. You see God up at the very top center, and you see the tiny white dove that God is sending hovering near Mary's face. Gabriel greets her with the crossed arms, but her arms are cradled in her lap. Since her book is on a bookstand, she does not have to keep place with her finger.

This is the central painting in a triptych at The Louvre by Italian Renaissance painter Carlo Braccesco, which has Gabriel flying in instead of already landed. Surprise! So the setting is, technically, pre-annunciation since he hasn't started talking yet. I imagine this is not unique, but I've never seen another painting like this one. I love how Mary is depicted, surprised definitely and she is almost warding the angel off (as I certainly would!) as if he were an irritating bug. This is a disruption not just an interruption. 

Here we have Donatello's early 15th Century gilded sculpture (this is in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence). This piece differs from many of the other Renaissance depictions in both the body language and the facial expressions of Gabriel and Mary. Gabriel is curious with his cocked head and Mary is mostly open and shows some gratitude in turning toward him.

This was painted in 1333 by Italian artist Simone Martini and hangs at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It's tempura and gold on wood. I love many things about this one, particularly Gabriel's plaid cape. And in this one you see that the words Gabriel speaks (literally painted on!) are directed at Mary (who is not so happy about this encounter - notice her frown and her shoulder turning herself away) while the Holy Spirit (dove and birds with angels/saints? faces in the top middle) hovers over the scene. 

This is a fuzzy crop of what I think is an ivory panel of Biblical scenes from the Cluny Museum in Paris.  I haven't got any more information than that. Mary looks already pregnant here, the way she is sitting with her legs apart as if the weight of the child is already a factor. Of course, the lookers on in these works are often depictions of the patrons who commissioned the art, along with some locally important saints.

This is a stained glass window from the mid-14th Century which is displayed in the Cluny Museum in Paris. Below is a less grainy Mary, who has a somewhat troubled face, clearly pondering what this might mean, with the dove alighting on her head and the pages of her book still turning, perhaps affected by the Spirit blowing. The stylized folds in the gowns are interesting, as are the hairstyles of both Mary (loose flowing uncovered locks) and Gabriel (straight at the top, curly at the bottom). Gabriel seems to be wearing a clerical collar and his hands have the two fingers extended like a bishop giving a blessing. 

Holy Mary, Holy Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.


Thomas said…
Rev. Penelope, hello! I'm so glad I found my way back to your blog after having lost track of it. (I was searching for your 7/15/2012 post that alludes to St Martha of the Vandellas!)

The Annunciation: yes, Gabriel should be kneeling to the Virgin (as he is in most of these depictions) -- but I do have a fondness for the Braccesco (look out! incoming!).

Blessings of this feast to you and yours.

peace and light
Thomas D
Arlington, MA
Hi Thomas! Glad to see you again. Thanks for saying hi. I know we're not supposed to have favorites, but I do love the Braccesco, too. So inventive and playful!