Taking a 2nd look at the Annunciation?

The Annunciation of Mary (where the angel Gabriel appears to Mary to announce that as a virgin, she will conceive Jesus) is one of the most painted scenes from the Bible. The ones that we are traditionally familiar with would probably look something like this:

Painting by Fra Angelico (15th century)

Or like this:

The young Mary is often portrayed as demure, humble, and with eyes downcast

Yet, modern depictions of this famous scene probably go closer to the truth of what it must have felt like to the teenage Mary when an angel suddenly appears from nowhere. I particularly like this one:

Oh no, what is the 'man' going to do to the poor, frightened young girl?

Here, Mary is dressed like a contemporary day school girl, reading a book, and Gabriel stands before her not colorful, not dazzling, but in a muted choir robe, and as a man.  By painting Gabriel very clearly as a man rather than a woman (as in the traditional paintings above) or something hermaphroditic, the painter creates an unsettling feeling:  what is he going to do to this girl? Yes he has his head down, in a somewhat reverential pose, but still, if we didn’t know the story, I’m not sure it would be clear.  It reveals in a way most paintings don’t – the radical, almost heart-breaking vulnerability of Mary. In this painting, she really is just a kid.

Another modern rendition that I find interesting is this:Unlike most treatments, here the angel is not anthropomorphized at all; it’s just a golden light that glows before Mary.  And Mary herself — what is she doing? Her head’s cocked down a bit, and yet not in that reverential, “do with me as you will” way we’re used to.  She doesn’t seem scared, either. She’s just…interested? Waiting to see what happens? In the middle of a silent conversation?

As Jim McDermott describes his personal reaction to this painting in his blog, “I look at this version and wonder whether it doesn’t capture the dynamics of prayer, that sense of silent dialogue and complex receptivity.  Perhaps our every conversation with God is a sort of personal annunciation.”

~ by irwin on February 9, 2012.

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