The Life of Jesus Christ, and the Art He Inspired: The Annunciation
The Annunciation on Video - From Jesus of Nazareth
Chapter One: The Illustrated Life of Jesus Christ Project
Hello! Welcome to the first of many hubpages I will be creating about my new passion - following the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth as it has been depicted through great works of art. We begin with the Annunciation, that remarkable conversation between the angel Gabriel and Mary, an ordinary peasant girl living in Nazareth a little over 2000 years ago.
Annunciazione by Sandro Botticelli
Ecce Ancilla Domini by Dante Gabriel Rosetti
Luke 1:26 - 38
26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27 to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And the angel came in unto her and said, “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.”
29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying and cast about in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
30 And the angel said unto her, “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favor with God.
31 And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus.
32 He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David,
33 and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His Kingdom there shall be no end.”
34 Then said Mary unto the angel, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?”
35 And the angel answered and said unto her, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. Therefore also that Holy Being who shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
36 And behold, thy cousin Elizabeth: she hath also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.”
38 And Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” And the angel departed from her.
Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci
Virgin Annunciate by Antonello da Messina
Meditation: Mary's Leap of Faith
This is a story we've all heard over and over again every Christmas, and the image of the Virgin Mary receiving this information is often depicted in a very idealistic manner, with a perfectly virtuous maiden serenely accepting her blessed assignment as Queen of Heaven while casting otherworldly eyes aloft in absolute obedience to the heavens above. However, I think Botticelli and Rosetti above may have come closer to the mark.
Let us consider Mary's situation for a second. Women married very young in biblical times, so we are talking of a woman who may not be much more than thirteen or fourteen years old. In Mary's time, young women did not speak to men who were not related to them in some way. All holy dealings were handled by men. Mary is neither prophet nor priestess, with no background experience that might prepare her for such a conversation as this, and she's not much more than a child. Mary has been approached in her own house by an extraordinary being who has just informed her that she's pregnant.
Whether we of 21st century sensitivities approve or not, the legal penalty for a pregnant unmarried woman in Mary's time was fearsome and brutal. The Talmudic law is spelled out in its harsh severity in Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy 22: 13 - 21
13 “If any man take a wife and go in unto her, and hate her,
14 and give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her and say, ‘I took this woman, and when I came to her I found her not a maid,’
15 then shall the father of the damsel and her mother take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel’s virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate.
16 And the damsel’s father shall say unto the elders, ‘I gave my daughter unto this man for a wife, and he hateth her;
17 and lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, “I found not thy daughter a maid,” and yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.
18 And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him;
19 and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought an evil name upon a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days.
20 But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel,
21 then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die, because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house; so shalt thou put evil away from among you.
The penalty for declaring a virgin bride to be unchaste was a hundred shekels of silver. The penalty for being an unchaste unmarried woman was stoning.
Rosetti's Mary is huddled in a corner of her bed, her back literally against the wall, reacting as if she's had an unexpected intruder in her house give her some potentially life-wrecking news. Botticelli's maiden actually has her arms outstretched, almost in protest against this most startling revelation. She is betrothed to Joseph, but has not yet been with him, and the scandal of having a child that was not conceived through her union with her betrothed is the kind of humiliation that could end with her being cast off from her community.
Knowing this, we must understand that Mary's obedience was not merely virtuous, but a tremendously brave leap of faith into an unknown future that could hold many serious perils for her. And yet - she accepted her role in the Lord's designs, trusting that He would make the path straight so that she would not be shamed or destroyed through this miracle.
That being said, it is probably not at all surprising that her immediate reaction was to seek out the friendship and protection of an older woman who was herself facing unusual . circumstances and might be willing to hear Mary's side of the story. Mary's cousin Elizabeth, who had lived long in the disgrace of being barren, was pregnant in her old age, and the child she was carrying would grow up to be John the Baptist.
Annunciation by El Greco, (Domenikos Theotokopoulos)
Dear Lord, I know that you may at times invite me to step out beyond my comfort zone and examine the possibility of trying new things or accepting a new set of circumstances for which I was completely unprepared. Give me the faith, the courage and the grace of that young girl from Nazareth who listened as an angel turned her life upside down and said "Be it unto me according to Thy word."
Next chapter in this series: The Dream of St. Joseph
- The Illustrated Life of Jesus: The Dream of St. Joseph
The angel Gabriel appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to marry his betrothed, Mary, who is pregnant with Jesus Christ. Artwork by Mengs, Rizi, Seghers, and Ribeiro.
About the Paintings
Where it is located
Sandro Botticelli, 1489 - 1490
Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Ecce Ancilla Domini
Dante Gabriel Rosetti, 1850
Antonello da Messina, 1475
Galleria Regionale della Sicilia, Palermo
Leonardo Da Vinci, 1473
Uffizi Gallery, Florence
El Greco, 1590 - 1603
Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki