So I’m not an art person, but I know what cliches I like, doh-ho-ho! A year or two ago I happened across this image online by Botticelli, someone who I was vaguely aware of by name (thanks University Challenge!) but hadn’t even connected to The Birth Of Venus. Close your eyes and think of Venus. If you’re not seeing a tennis player, an armless statue or a greenhouse effect in space, then that’s Botticelli‘s Venus.
Anyway this is a painting of his from 1489 depicting the Annunciation. That’s the angel Gabriel on the left, looking a lot more like Raistlin from Dragonlance than how he’s usually conceived. The awkwardly-posed, anachronistically-garbed, eyes-excessively-downcast Mary on the right is meek beyond measure. Hey, who wouldn’t be?
Granted I’m a philistine. I love the harsh geometry of this painting. It reads as so modern to me! Look at those lines framing the external view. Look at the regularity of the floor tiles. I’ve searched out some of Botticelli‘s other stuff and it seems to be half did-it-with-a-ruler triptychs and half semi-fantastical scenes. This picture synthesises the best of both approaches for me.
Despite the fact that A Good Christian Beholder would be drawn to Mary, it’s Gabriel who draws me in. I have no idea of the proper significance of the lilies he carries in this context (a mere Google away, I know). The white lines about him fascinate me. Could they represent motion or a certain angelic ethereality? Though he apparently enters from the left, the choice to show him framed against the outside world draws the eye. He kneels, and reaches out proffering, even as Mary holds her hands denyingly. Surely he’s implicitly offering her the world shown behind him along with the Christ-child? (This painting pre-dates Michelangelo‘s The Creation Of Adam by 20-ish years, hand-fans!) The detail and attention to the fall of both their robes is amazing.
Pulling out a part of the image for illustrative purposes I literally just noticed that what appears to be Gabriel‘s halo bisects the lilies, forming a cross. That’s how I read the image anyway, although I don’t actually think halos would have been represented in the 15th century the way we do now (usually with wire!)
There’s a slightly larger version available via the painting’s Wikipedia page. Else it’s a trip to Florence to check out the original. Call me first, yeah?
The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee