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The Annunciation in Art

When I was recently looking through pictures of the annunciation in order to check that my own Norm depiction of the famous encounter between the angel Gabriel and Mary was correct, I noticed just how incredibly well represented the festival is in Christian art. From renaissance masters such as Fra Angelico and Botticelli to the interpretations of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the image of Mary and the Angel Gabriel is as prominent a depiction in art history as the female nude. Such was the breadth of artistic output given over to the image, I felt compelled to share a few on The Daily Norm.

Despite the diversity of styles and compositional techniques used by the artists of these works, several strands remain common to them all. The Angel Gabriel is usually holding a white lily, said to represent Mary’s virginity, and a dove is very often present, representing the Holy Spirit and the conception which it at that moment engineers. The composition is also largely similar, with Mary on the right and Gabriel on the left, and in general the scene is played out on the outside of a house for example in a portico or garden.

For my Norm sketch, I tried to incorporate as many of these trends as possible, even playing on the trickery of perspective employed with such adeptness by Bottocelli and emulated in my old tiled floor. However I have placed my characters inside in a dusty Nazareth home. No grand renaissance porticos for me.

Fra Angelico (1438)

Fra Angelico (1438)

Fillippo Lippi (1443)

Fillippo Lippi (1443)

Attributed to Barthélemy d'Eyck (c.1443)

Attributed to Barthélemy d’Eyck (c.1443)

Carlo Crivelli (15th century)

Carlo Crivelli (15th century)

Botticelli (1490)

Botticelli (1490)

Phillippe de Champaigne (1644)

Phillippe de Champaigne (1644)

Esteban Perez Murillo (1655)

Esteban Perez Murillo (1655)

George Hitchcock (1887)

George Hitchcock (1887)

John William Waterhouse (1914)

John William Waterhouse (1914)

There’s something truly captivating about religious art, whatever your creed or belief, and despite not being a church goer myself, I find myself drawn to depictions of the Annunciation and the Nativity more than any other symbol of Christmas – just as for me old carols sung in monastery cloisters, and a visit to a candlelit carol concert of a cold winters evening are far more synonymous with Christmas than any tacky coca cola Christmas ad or the manic pre-Christmas shopping rush on Oxford street. I have therefore enjoyed the exercise of researching these paintings, transporting me as they do to the candlelit churches of Italy in December, where I was studying art history 12 years ago. I hope you enjoy them too.

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