Archangel Gabriel; The Virgin Annunciate,
Painting by Gerard David (1455–1523),
Painted in 1510,
Oil on oak panel,
© Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town called Nazareth
The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.
Reflection on the altar panels
Yesterday’s reading spoke of the angel of the Lord appearing to Zechariah. But Zechariah did not quite believe what the angel was telling him. Today’s Gospel reading is telling us of the angel appearing to Mary. She is reacting in a completely different way: she listened, asked a question (‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’) and then took the decision to accept God’s invitation. There and then she believed the angel. She couldn’t have possible understood everything that was going on, but she just wilfully and joyfully participated in the mystery of salvation, there and then. Today’s reading is all about invitation and response: God’s call and our free will to decide whether to follow that call or not.
God so beautifully chose Mary, based in the small city of Nazareth. God could have easily chosen someone in the big city of Jerusalem, centre of the Jewish world, to draw attention to the fact he was sending his son into the world. But no, God chose the small city of Nazareth, so Jesus could grow up there, discreetly, under the radar… till he would start his ministry at the age of 30.
Gerard David, based in Bruges, painted these two stunning Annunciation panels. These panels, depicting the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Annunciate, originally formed the movable wings of an altarpiece. The panels are executed in ‘grisaille’ effect. This is a technique by which a painting is executed entirely in shades of grey to create the illusion of sculpture. Yet the flesh tones and hair of the figures depart from the monochromatic grey, in keeping with the softer, naturalistic vein prevalent in Bruges painting at the turn of the 15th century. The dove is rendered in an almost three-dimensional way, by clever use of its shadowing. For most of the year these altarpieces would be displayed with the side wings closed. So these two panels would have been visible for most of the year, with the Annunciation firmly central. On special occasions and feasts, the altarpiece would be opened, displaying the internal panels, probably consisting of either a nativity scene shown at Christmas or a crucifixion scene for the Easter triduum.
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Readings related to Luke 1:26-38
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I really like the colours and the folds and shadows. Looks like riich satin. I want to touch them. Like the colours in the wood surrounding the panels.
Me ha encantado el comentario y la explicación del cuadro o tablilla…El concepto de crisalla…es una preciosidad…
Greetings. I would be grateful if someone can identify and explain the significance of the objects in Gabrielle’s left hand and also in Mary’s left hand. Thank you in advance.
Oh-ho…now Zechariah was not allowed a question, but Mary seemingly was….and Joseph just got up and did as he was told. Hmmm… these things rattle me.
Cette belle représentation de l’Annonciation est placée dans une niche, la Vierge Marie d’un regard d’humilité laisse apparaître les courbes naissantes de sa grossesse. Cette mises en scène devient tabernacle, lieu de la présence de nôtre Seigneur. Puissions nous être tabernacle de sa présence.
Astonishing is the word. The perspective is most impressive – they almost look like sculptures which is, of course, the idea.
I believe the angel’s words are the inspiration for the prayer we call the ‘Hail Mary’.
That cloth….!!! So neat. The folds are superb. You can tell the weight of it.
Yes, I agree, fantastic. An art historian told me that Northern Renaissance artists painted angular folds in fabric whereas Italian Renaissance artists painted rounded folds…I keep meaning to do a comparison. But yes, a wonderful painting today.
More exquisite artwork from Bruges! This is astonishing, as was Mary’s yes! The whole of creation was changed in that moment. We should all say yes more often!