The Life of Christ and The Virgin panels –The Annunciation

Annunciation Panel from the Boppard Life of Christ and the Virgin Window
Annunciation Panel from the Boppard Life of Christ and the Virgin Window

The Annunciation was a favourite subject for artistic representation and as you would expect, the Burrell Collection has a wonderful collection of examples in a range of media.

The Boppard panel is a classic design. God is up in the top left of the panel and the angel Gabriel in a red robe with yellow wings is at the lower left. He indicates towards Mary with his left hand and holds the end of a scroll with his words, “Hail Mary, mother of God”, in the other hand. Mary, in her blue robe and with her head covered, fills the centre right of the panel. She has been kneeling at a lectern on her right, reading from the Old Testament. She turns towards the angel with her hands raised in surprise. There is a curtain on a rail framing the right hand edge of the panel, suggesting we are in a private place. There is a plant in a blue pot at the bottom right which would normally be a lily indicating the purity of Mary, but in this case looks like a little tree. This could be a reference to the Tree of Jesse, the lineage of Christ. A canopy at the top reinforces Mary’s high status. A beam of light emanates from God down towards Mary, changing into a dove that signifies the Holy Spirit, which in this case represents Jesus entering Mary.

Another example of the Annunciation at the Burrell Collection is from Hampton Court and dates to 1400-1430, just before the Boppard windows.

Burrell Collection Window - The Annunciation from Hampton Court 1400-1430
Burrell Collection Window – The Annunciation from Hampton Court 1400-1430

 Apart from the very clear vase of lilies, the composition is remarkably similar. Yet another similar composition can be seen in one of the Nottingham alabasters, beautifully carved and originally brightly painted, with traces of paint still visible.

Burrell Collection Nottingham Alabaaster - The Annunciation
Burrell Collection Nottingham Alabaaster – The Annunciation

Nottingham alabasters were quarried and carved, mainly in Nottingham but also in London, York and Burton-on-Trent. They were carved in large quantities from the 14th century until the early 16th century and Henry VIII’s creation of the Church of England. They would be in sets telling stories from, for example, the Life of the Virgin.

The Annunciation is also in a superb painting by the Netherlandish painter, Master of the Prado Adoration of the Magi, a catchy name used when an identified body of work cannot be attributed to a named artist. The Adoration of the Magi is his greatest work and is in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. His painting of the Annunciation is part of a triptych dated to between 1470 and 1480.

Annunciation - Master of the Prado Adoration of the Magi in the Burrell Collection
Annunciation – Master of the Prado Adoration of the Magi in the Burrell Collection

This is the left wing of a triptych, with the right hand wing also in the Burrell Collection. Where is the angel Gabriel? He was originally on the left, but has been sawn off at some time in the past, possibly due to water or worm damage to the painting. The composition is essentially the same as the Boppard panel, with lots of iconography: God was probably represented by the light shining through the open window and the bed provides the canopy for royal status. The rug Mary kneels on also indicates her royal status. On the bedside cabinet are a closed book, possibly representing the New Testament yet to be written and a candle not yet lit; the glass bottle with water next to the wine ewer perhaps suggests the miracles Jesus will perform during his life and the trefoil and quatrefoil carvings on the lectern may represent the Holy Trinity and the four gospels.

 

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