Visiting heavenly angels always have important messages to deliver! The question is, are you ready to receive it?
I may not be an angel, but I’ve got an interesting story to tell you about Botticelli’s Annunciation. Ready? Okay, let’s begin.
The Angel’s Annunciation
Whether a believer or not, the Bible unravels dramatic tales. There’s a powerful deity, messenger angels, betrayals, miracles, and so forth. One such tale sets the stage for the iconic Birth of Jesus narrative told during Christmas. This is the Annunciation tale.
God sent the angel Gabriel to visit the Virgin Mary with an important announcement: through the power of the Holy Spirit, she is going to be a mom! Congrats! But, not just any mother, Mary will be the mother of Christ the Savior. That’s right, her son is Jesus! Despite initial surprise, Mary humbly consents and the angel, his job complete, leaves.
Click here to read the complete Bible passage (Luke 1:26-38).
Renaissance artists (and their patrons) were inspired by Christian subjects and painted varying biblical scenes. As a result, we have Botticelli’s Annunciation! In fact, he created three different artworks showing the Annunciation in different ways.
Side note: Botticelli painted both classical pagan gods and goddesses and Christian themes!
Lehman Collection’s Annunciation
The Robert Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art includes one of Botticelli’s Annunciation pieces. This piece, made of tempera and gold on wood, was created around 1485-92 in Italy. It’s a small picture and most likely created for private religious use. The painting shows the angel Gabriel just arriving at Mary’s bedchambers. Notice how his wings, cape, and hair still seem to be moving as he touches down? Meanwhile, Mary is kneeling down in humility as she gets ready to receive Gabriel’s message.
Botticelli snuck in a few special meanings. The rays of golden light indicate the Holy Spirit. The lily represents purity and Mary’s blue clothing and golden halo reflects her spirituality. To single out each character, Botticelli divides the space with pillars. And, influenced by the classics, Botticelli made the architectural setting reflect a classical ideal and used one-point perspective to create depth.
San Martino Annunciation
Unlike his other Annunciation works, this 1481 art piece is a fresco. Originally, this piece decorated a wall under a loggia. Architectural changes caused the fresco to be removed and relocated to the Uffizi where you can see it today.
This version of the Annunciation unfolds in a Renaissance palace! There’s fancy decorations and a beautiful garden! Unfortunately, it doesn’t accurately reflect Mary’s real living conditions for it is oriented towards a Renaissance audience and the current fashion style. Also, it sure does hype up the importance and grandeur of the Annunciation of Christ!
Did you know that the walled garden represents Mary’s purity? (Hint: her virginity is protected)!
Looking at this piece, we see the angel Gabriel gracefully flying into Mary’s bedchamber. Through imitations of wind passing through his hair and drapes, Botticelli emphasizes a sense of movement. Furthermore, the Virgin Mary’s bowed position communicates her humbleness towards Gabriel and his message.
Do you spot any similar symbols (lilies, blue gown, light) like Botticelli’s other Annunciations? I do!
Moreover, Botticelli designed this fresco to be viewed from a certain angle. Viewers are meant to look up at the painting starting on the side with the Angel and following his flight into Mary’s chambers. Therefore, try crouching down on the paintings left side next time you visit the Uffizi (it’ll change your experience!).
Like the Lehman Collection Annunciation, Botticelli’s Cestello Annunciation, though made between 1489-90, is also a tempera piece. The nature, bare furnishings, sober clothing, and limited color tones reflect simplicity while the accentuated gestures of the angel and Mary emphasize religious fervor.
Also, like the fresco, the walled garden in the background represents Mary’s purity!
In this scene, Gabriel has already landed and is reaching towards Mary from a crouched position. On the other hand, Mary is both reaching towards and slightly moving away from Gabriel. Her movements reflect genuine surprise and fear towards this unsuspected visitor (I don’t blame her!) while also showing her acceptance. Since both figures are reaching towards the other, the empty space between their hands emphasizes a sacred space. These two important figures are drawn to each other but Botticelli keeps us forever suspended in this pregnant pause. Emotions are charged, no?
Furthermore, the frame is the original! The bottom depicts the customers emblems and Christ in pietà. In addition, the two inscriptions come from the Gospel of Luke (1:35 and 38) and discuss the interaction between Mary and Gabriel.
Powerful words and images, right?!
Which interpretation is your favorite? How would you depict the Annunciation? Let me know in the comments!
Pro Tip for Families: If you’re visiting these museums, have your kids draw their own angels ….tag @that_muse_ to show us your kid’s drawings!