This crescent oil piece beautifully depicts the scene of the Annunciation, also referred to as the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Christian celebration of the announcement by the angel Gabriel to Mary that she would conceive and bear a son through a virgin birth and become the mother of Jesus Christ. Here we see the angel Gabriel on the left in a reassuring posture of prayer with the Virgin Mary sat on the right in a state of amazement. The two figures perfectly fill the edges of this crescent space, conveying to the viewer the enormity of this interaction, while the sustained space between them illustrates Mary’s initial confusion and weariness.
The annunciation has been one of the most frequent subjects of Christian art. Depictions of the Annunciation go back to early Christianity and has been a favourite subject in both the Christian East and as Roman Catholic Marion art.
The motif of the vase became commonly used in the depiction of the scene, a tradition that became linked with the inclusion of the lily. Sometimes the lily is in the vase as part of a general setting or, as is the case here, the lily is held by Gabriel acting as a symbol of the Virgin’s purity.
The posture of Mary is a detail that many artists took great care to depict because of the opportunity it gives to explore Mary’s psychological reaction to the presence of Gabriel. Italian preachers, such as the famous Fra Roberto Caracciolo of Lecce, made detailed analyses of the account given by St Luke, going as far as to lay out a series of five spiritual and mental conditions that Mary went through when encountering Gabriel’s message. According to Fra Roberto, these were said to be, in order – Disquiet, Reflection, Inquiry, Submission and Merit. In this instance it has been interpreted with the first of her reactions – disquiet and an expression of alarm at the appearance of the angel.