And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth. To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women…Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, though shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.Luke 1: 26-31 King James Version
At Christmas time, Christians all over the world celebrate this tale. Biblical passages recounting the Annunciation and birth of Christ are read in homes and churches. In the 21st century, high literacy rates compiled with mass distribution of Bibles make reading this story quite easy.
For much of human history though, many people couldn’t read and, even if they could, Bibles may not have been mass published, and even if they were, books were expensive. Artworks recounting Biblical stories, therefore, were exceedingly important. For centuries, artists dedicated their talents to depicting religious stories.
To celebrate Christmas, history, and art, I want to share with you one of my favorite paintings of the Annunciation story by Italian Renaissance master Fra Angelico—born Guido di Pietro. The masterpiece resides on a second-story wall of the Dominican monk’s former monastery, San Marco, in Florence, Italy.
Fra Angelico’s paintings grace many walls in the church and convent of San Marco, but the star of the show is his recounting of the tale of the Virgin being told she would give birth to the Christ child. To see his masterful depiction of the Annunciation (1440-45), you need to climb the stairs to the area where the monks had their bedroom cells. At the top of the staircase, you find yourself in front of one of the most arresting portrayals of the Annunciation story ever painted. The angel who is giving Mary the news of her pregnancy has technicolor wings; the whole scene is soft with varying shades of pink. It overwhelms the narrow space. Although centuries of age have undoubtedly muted the colors a little, it is still a strangely feminine fresco for such a masculine space. But it is a perfect depiction for the maternal content of the scene that the Renaissance genius was trying to convey—one of the most celebrated birth stories in the modern past. When I think of Christmas, this is the story that comes to my mind and I hope you enjoy this depiction of it as much as I do.
Jon and I wish you peace, comfort, good health, and happiness! We hope whichever holidays you celebrate are filled with joy. Today we wish you a Merry Christmas! Amy & Jon
For more on Fra Angelico and San Marco, see my blog: https://roaminghistorian.com/2019/07/14/things-to-do-in-florence-museo-san-marco/
Check out our fabulous photographic prints on our Etsy shop for yourself or as a gift.
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