Tuesday, March 29, 2022

More Paintings of Old Testament Events that Point to The Annunciation

The feast of the Annunciation was on March 25th and so we are within its octave, although this is not celebrated liturgically. Octaves are periods that extend the period of our meditation upon on the meaning of an event over a whole, so, as with last week’s post in anticipation, I will highlight some paintings that illustrate how this moment in history touches all of Salvation History in some way.

First, here is a painting of the Annunciation by a Dutch or Flemish painter called Matthias Stom, known for his work painted when he lived in Italy in the 17th century, and was much influenced by Caravaggio. This is less of a narrative-style composition in which many connected events in the story orbit the central moment, the engagement of Mary by the Archangel; instead, this one focuses almost exclusively on the moment of the Annunciation itself, and portrays Mary’s response psychologically through a beautifully rendered expression.

The work is evocative of paintings by a Frenchman of the same period, Georges de la Tours, in which the central point is the Light, signified by a candle in the dark.
From Byzantine Small Vespers on the eve of the feast:
“Why does your form blaze with fire?” said she whom we venerate to Gabriel in her amazement. “What is your rank and what the value of your words? You announce to me that I shall bring forth a child, het I have no experience of man. Lead me not astray, O man, with crafty words, as the crafty serpent once led astray Eve our mother.”
And earlier, from the same Office:
“Your words are as strange as your appearance! Strange is the news which your words announce to me!” said Mary to the Angel. “Do not seek to deceive me. I am a virgin, and I know not marriage; yet you tell me that I am to conceive the One whom no spirit can even comprehend! How can I contain within my womb Him whom the immense heavens themselves cannot contain?” “O Virgin, learn the lesson of the tent of Abraham, which once welcomed the Trinity. This prefigured your womb that would receive God!”
Above we see a painting from the studio of Rembrandt which depicts the Hospitality of Abraham, which is, coincidentally as far as I am aware, compositionally similar to that of Strom. 
Elsewhere among the hymns of the feast, Mary is described as the Ladder and the Gate, which leads to heaven. A path made possible for us by the Annunciation. 
The Holy Scriptures speak of you mystically, O Mother of the Most High. For Jacob saw in days of old the ladder that prefigured you and said: “This is the stair on which God will tread!” Therefore, as is meet, you hear the salutation: “Hail, O full of grace, the Lord is with you!”
The Dream of Jacob, by Ferdinand Bol, Dutch, 17th century. 
Finally, here is a hymn in the form of a litany, from Great Vespers on the eve which reveals many such types:
Gabriel came to you, O Maiden and disclosed God’s plan which was from all eternity. He joyfully offered you his greetings and cried out: “Hail, O land without human seed! Hail, O bush untouched by fire! Hail, O depth not human eye can fathom! Hail, O bridge that leads up to heaven! Hail, O fleece receiving the heavenly manna! Hail, O dissolution the curse! Hail, O Maiden who returned Adam to grace! The Lord is with you.”

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