"The Annunciation"

I have deliberately included Botticelli's version of the "Annunciation" together with my favourite Leonardo version as well - although, of course, there are more - because it, too, demonstrates very well, what the Gospel tells us about this event: that Mary was not at all at peace with the information, in her modesty unable to understand why she had been chosen. In both these interpretations - that of Leonardo and, of course in a slightly different style and configuration, of Botticelli, we see the upraised left hand used as a gesture of rejection or at the very least, warding-off. (Botticelli uses both the hands while Leonardo's shows the right hand resting, apparently inertly, on the arm of the chair - or is there a hint of tension in the arched fingers?).

Botticelli has taken it a stage further and produced a Virgin in a pose of extreme modesty and the result is a figure in a beautifully curved and graceful stance - if somewhat exaggerated. " And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be." Luke I: 29.

  

Another work, worthy of mention and connected to the theme of my note is that by Poussin. Here the Virgin has both arms spread wide. Possibly there are two interpretations to the gesture: one may well be that of startled astonishment at the news, while the other may be less a surprised astonishment but rather a considered gesture of "What! Me?"; after all, surely startlement would have required widened eyes, not thoughtfully half-closed ones. I leave you to decide which of the two Poussin had in mind - after all, art is what the viewer sees and not what someone tells him to see!


Here is another beautiful one, this time in stained glass from the 12th century Chartres Cathedral - and again the upraised hand.

Lastly I have added something in the ultra-modern idiom: a detail from the façade of the Basilica of the Annunciation, in Nazareth, which was completed at the end of the nineteen-sixties. Here, too, we see Mary "warding-off" the "unwelcome news" with a raised left hand, while underneath is part of the verse: "angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ." - And an angel of the Lord announced to Mary. To the left of the windows is the matching figure of Gabriel. Other elements seen on the façade are the four evangelists and the quotation from John I: XIV; "et verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis" - And the word was made flesh and dwelt within us.

As always, my gratitude to Christus Rex  and to The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, for their warm hospitality and kindness in allowing me access to their sites for this purpose.
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