Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Child is Born Unto Us

Today is the day that Christiandom celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. People across the world joined in celebration; from St. Peters to Baghdad to St. Paul's to Chicago. What manner of child was born, why G_d himself made human. To preach the good news of salvation and when some rejected His words submitted to being sacrificed to secure that salvation for all.

So why the painting by Botticelli of the Annunciation at the top then? Why any Annunciation picture then? Because it was by Mary's consent that G_d Himself came upon her via the Holy Spirit. Botticelli's is a very fluid painting showing the moment when Gabriel tells Mary how she is to be blessed. Gabriel is paying homage to Mary by bowing to her and entreating her, meaning she is of higher station than an Archangel. And Mary is going, in her body language, 'how can this be and who are you? I know not what you speak?' In the reading of Luke first chapter we read of the doubt Mary has about her visitor's words and how she is troubled. But she does give her consent and in time the Holy Spirit does come upon her and she conceives a child. Think of the love and respect G_d has for Mary that even though He wants her to be the mother of the Christ child, at this moment she could still say no and G_d would abide.

Unlike Zeus and Leda or Danae or Europa. Though it seems Henry Ossawa Tanner did use the Zeus visiting Danae story as inspiration of his painting of the Annunciation, the column of golden light is very similar to the shower of gold in which Zeus visited Danae and how Mary is cloistered away in a room with no windows visible also points to similarities. Probably the most widely known painting of the Annunciation has to be the one by Fra Angelico in which Gabriel is seen descending to visit Mary but it is very static in its composition when compared to Botticelli or this one by Raffaello in which Gabriel is rushing to inform Mary of what is about to transpire while in the distant upper left corner is seen G_d and in the right window we see the Holy Spirit descending towards Mary in the form of a dove. Barocci also uses the dove descending motive along with a kneeling Gabriel to signal the moment when Mary says yes to what is asked of her, also note the lillies above Gabriel's outstretched arm which indicates her Child's destiny as saviour. There have also been modern interpretations of the Annunciation like this one in which Mary is portrayed as a sensible young girl just stepping out of her house in suburbia to be greeted by Gabriel with head bowed and hands clasped in prayer. Again note the white lillies in the pot between Mary and Gabriel.

This concludes a quick overview of art and religion. Now go and enjoy today with your families. Celebrate being with them and appreciate them for more than just the gifts they bring.


Anonymous said...

Anna, if you ever get up north here (Indiana), you have to stop in and have an art discussion with my wife (Masters in fine art and MFA in Design Theory). I think that you two would be deep in discussion in no time


Anna said...

Thanks for thinking so highly of me but methinks I would have much to learn.

Though I must admit I did survive a hotel in NYC with a Warhol theme, talk about truly frightening. ^_^

D. X. M. said...

Thank you for your post, and a Happy New Year! Your link to Collier’s Annunciation is broken. You might try his website.

JWMJR said...

There was a time when art was the depiction of life's realities, the capture of a subtle smile or moment of profound joy or grief, in short it strived to portray the beauty and glory of G_d's greatest creation, the human soul. Now it is just squiggles and blotches that represent the ugly side of man and his failue to grast what beauty is and does to the soul. Ask the average person what agape is and you will draw little but vacant stares. Thanks for a great post.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. It saddens me that because Christianity is being driven into hiding, many (younger)people have no context at all for the works that they see. Annunciation paintings are more than depictions of a special event in a particular faith. To anyone who understands the context, Annunciation scenes are different interpretations by artistic geniuses of this situation: A sheltered young woman gets an unexpected visit from a celestial visitor,who is telling her she a Supreme Being has destined her to experience something unnatural and supernatural.

Painters have depicted her as frightened, submissive, reluctant, accepting, resigned, reverent, honored, and many other emotional states...but my favorite is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art...a Dutch painting that shows the angel behind the Virgin, who is on a kneeler and turning her head slightly in a "WHAT did I just hear?" look on her face.