Virgin Annunciate

7:00 AM

Antonello da Messina, Virgin Annunciate, 1476
By ELLIE SCHNEIDER

My eyes are first drawn to the color of Mary's shawl. It is a color that even Crayola would have a hard time naming. The closest Pantone color is 7709 U (Uncoated). St. Antoninus and Alberti were onto something when they created different color codes, because a color is more than just the name slapped onto a crayon. Colors evoke indescribable feelings. Colors also change over time. In 1476, da Messina could have used the ever fashionable and desired ultramarine blue, but after years of wear, the color could have faded into the less saturated teal that we see today. 

Just as color fades, different prints of paintings can result in different colors. Colors have great impact on the interpretation and reception of a painting, so different prints are interpreted differently. 
Mary is covered in this mantle when the angel Gabriel came down to tell her that she would bare G-d's son. Many famous painters have been inspired this scene, all creating their own version of the annunciation, but da Messina's depiction appears more modern than those of Lippi and Botticelli. Rather than paint the angel, da Messina focuses on Mary alone. The dark background further helps put the focus on Mary. Da Messina frames her face with the mantle she is wearing and the color brings her expression into full view. 

The eyes are the window to the soul, and Mary's expression speaks volumes to the story. Mary is in disbelief when Gabriel tells her she will have a baby, let alone the child of G-d. Her eyes and soft face show her fear. Da Messina also uses body language as another way to convey Mary’s fear, disdain, and shock. Michael Baxandall discusses the importance of hand placement in paintings, including other versions of the annunciate. In some versions Mary holds her stomach with her hands, showing her comprehension of Gabriel’s message. In Virgin Annunciate, rather than feel her womb, Mary attempts to cover herself with her mantle. This piece of clothing acts as a layer of protection from Gabriel’s words, but she still can’t avoid the truth. To further convey Mary’s unhappiness, Mary reaches her right hand out. She may be pushing Gabriel away or trying to understand the situation. 

In terms of a religious presence in the painting, the portrait lacks the gold or rich blues that would have been used for such a work. There are no fantasy images or baby angels or G-d-like figures. We just see Mary, which takes away from the religious topic and allows more human feelings to be conveyed. Still, we feel like Mary is connected to religion. Her mantle looks like it might serve the purpose of an overcoat, but also as a religious shawl. The way she is engulfed by the cloth shows how she is immersed in religion. Her book looks like a book of devotions, similar to a book of ours, which was popular in the Middle Ages. Her devotion to studying and to G-d may have inspired her divine conception. 

Still, Mary's stomach is hidden from view. The topic of the painting is the immaculate conception of Jesus Christ, but Mary's womb is covered by the desk or podium as which she is reading. So not only do we not see the angel Gabriel, but we also don't see her womb. The lack of religious influence in this depiction begs the question, "Who commissioned this painting and why?" Mary looks like an ordinary girl and the choice of a portrait of Mary alone eliminates divine depictions. Maybe this painting is actually a wedding gift and hints to the fertility of the bride or maybe it was commissioned by someone who doesn't believe in divine conception, which is why Mary appears to be pushing away the assumed angel that is not pictured. 

While Mary's mantle draws me in, it is the lack of religion and the focus on the purity of Mary that keeps me engaged. 

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