Monday, August 22, 2016

Praying the Angelus with Art: This Week's Image

This week's image is an icon from the ancient monastery on Mount Sinai:

Monday, August 15, 2016

Praying the Angelus with Art: This Week's Image

This week's Annunciation scene with its billowing clouds and open heavens seems to foretell the mystery celebrated in today's Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

The Annunciation, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1725).

Monday, August 8, 2016

Praying the Angelus with Art: This Week's Image

The Merode Altarpiece
workshop of Robert Campin
From the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

"The Annunciation Triptych" displays the hallmarks of the emergent Early Netherlandish style. A fascination with the natural world dominates. The smallest details are meticulously worked to reflect reality on a two-dimensional plane. Illusionistic effects are enhanced by the technical innovation of overlaying translucent oil pigments on aqueous opaque pigments. The resulting luminous, enamel-like surface achieves apparent depth, rich gradations of light, and a broad distribution of color values.

"The Annunciation Triptych" was conceived as an object of private devotion. Although scholars have given complex interpretations for its iconography, the significance of the imagery must have been understood by the ordinary educated person of its time. The center panel focuses on the Virgin in prayer. As she has not yet recognized the presence of the archangel Gabriel, the event depicted is the moment just before the Annunciation. Some objects, such as the lily and the laver, symbolize the Virgin's purity expressed through the divine birth of Christ. The tiny figure of the Christ Child bearing a cross and descending on rays of light from the round window indicates that the primary subject is the Incarnation. This understanding is borne out by the flame of the candle, symbolic of God's divinity, which has just been extinguished, a further reference to the Incarnation, the moment when God became man. This significant detail is placed in the exact center of the composition.

The presence on the right panel of Joseph, who is not usually attendant at the Annunciation, can also be explained in the context of the Incarnation. Joseph has made two mousetraps, whose meaning is elucidated by the Augustinian speculation that the Incarnation was God's means of ensnaring the devil, much as bait entraps a mouse.

The coat of arms depicted in the left window transom in the central panel has been identified as that of the Ingelbrechts of Malines, who are documented in Tournai in 1427. The donatrix and the messenger in the background of the left panel may have been added at a later date, presumably after the donor's marriage.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Praying the Angelus with Art: This Week's Image

The Annunciation here depends upon the medieval tradition concerning the unicorn (see Mary's lap) as a symbol of Christ. For more about this symbolism and why it would especially be associated with the Annunciation, read "The Unicorn and the Virgin" from the University of Dayton's Marian Institute.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Praying the Angelus with Art: This Week's Image

From the notes in the Walters Museum of Art catalog: Monogrammed "S. C." [for the artist, Suzanne de Court] in gold letters near the top of the left edge, this devotional plaque is by the only woman enamel painter to sign her work (sometimes in full). Based on the same source as the Annunciation plaque by Jean Limosin (Walters 44.346), this piece is notable for the brilliance of the translucent enamel colors, especially the garnet red, and the delicately applied gilding, although the overall emphasis on surface pattern, dazzling though it is, nearly flattens out the space.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Praying the Angelus with Art: This Week's Image

Note God the Father appearing in the middle of this altarpiece!

From the notes for this work (Walters Museum of Art): This relief is from an altarpiece that probably depicted the life of Christ. The Archangel Gabriel appears to the Virgin carrying a scroll upon which his salutation: "Ave Maria gratia plena" ("Hail Mary, full of grace") probably appeared, as it does on the version below. God the Father holds an orb representing the universe and blesses the event. The vase of lilies, an allusion to the Virgin's purity, is often found in Annunciation scenes. The flamboyant sweep of Gabriel's immense wings, which encompasses the donor, a Franciscan monk*, and gently caressing the Virgin, is a feature shared with reliefs from a workshop that flourished from the 1390s to the 1440s in the neighboring towns of Joinville and Vignory in northeast France. Most of these reliefs were intended to be painted.
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*Eventually, the curators may learn that Franciscans are not monks but friars.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Praying the Angelus with Art: This Week's Image

In honor of today's feast of St Benedict, abbot, the Annuncation scene for this week is from a bishop's (or abbot's?) crozier. Three serpents fall headlong down the staff, showing God's triumph over sin through Christ's incarnation.