The Annunciation


This is a work by a young Leonardo Da Vinci and his master Andrea Del Verrocchio. “The Annunciation” as it is often called is the moment when Mary learns from an angel that she is going to conceive and give birth to Jesus.  This all happens despite the fact that Mary is a virgin.  Now, whatever your opinions on the virgin birth or the existence of angels, you’d have to admit that this would be incredible news; This is an emotion which the understated title “Annunciation” does not adequately capture.  Many artists throughout time have depicted this moment, and because they tend to be religious, they often obscure the surprise, dismay and fear that I expect Mary would have experienced.  Often the Annunciation shows a regal, calm Mary treating the angel (Gabriel) very much like a common household servant.  So many of them (at least in my humble and uninformed opinion) don’t seem to take the reality of the situation into account.  This painting is better than most.  Since Verrocchio painted the majority of the scene with lead paint and Da Vinci painted the angel the angel is literally of a different substance than the rest of the painting (under x-ray the angel disappears).  The visitor to this heavy reality is lighter and brings otherworldly but nonetheless real news.  Mary and Gabriel are about on the same plane, though the angel is bowing to Mary, the superiority of her position is slight.  In other words, she functions more like a real person and less like someone used to dealing with angels.  The angel seems in earnest to share the news but there is significant distance between the figures.  The desk between them is another obstacle which further implies that this news may not be the most welcome, and certainly unexpected.  Yet despite all this she seems willing to listen.  Often in the world we live in news about God working in the world is disconcerting.  Hearing such news frequently puts people at a distance from the messenger yet there is something about the message that seems to keep people listening.  Mary was the sort of person who was willing to listen to what God is up to in the world and participated in it.  This is why many sects of Christianity hold her in such high esteem.