christmas art

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I’ve been spending the day looking at Christmas related art. No, not the typical kitsch filled with children sledding, cottages with smoke pouring from the fireplace, or jolly old elves. I’m having a look at the religious art that accompanies the Christmas story.

One of the pieces that sticks out to me is this one, The Annunciation by Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

The Annunciation by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

Most religious art dealing with Mary has very much the Catholic sense about it, highlighting her stature and role as most blessed among women, and in doing that making her to be no real woman at all, but a figure of religious imagination — the goddess some folks wish Christianity had.

Here, however, we see a scene. I like this painting because I imagine this is right before the angel disappears. He’s made his announcement that Mary is going to have a baby. She’s gotten over her initial shock. She asked how this was going to happen, the angel replies, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you”. We see the dove coming through the window above the angel’s hand here.

“May it be to me as you have said,” Mary replied to the angel. But in this painting we still see the weight of her initial reaction we read about in Luke 1:20. Mary was greatly troubled.

“The Lord is with you,” the angel said.

Mary was greatly troubled at his words, Luke writes.

My guess is she knew her Scriptures. What was going through her mind? Isaiah? Joseph? David? Ruth? Esther?

The text doesn’t say she replied with serene peace or with exuberant joy. “What do you mean?” she asks the angel, fearing more than the angel’s presence.

Rossetti captures this scene with the right emotions. The angel is blessing Mary, the dove (symbol of the Spirit) is entering. But Mary looks away, looks down, completely unsure about what this really means for her life.

She will do her part, and what a part it is, but she’s not quite at the point of acceptance that makes her rejoice in song. That comes later when she greets Elizabeth. Now, the angel has spoken. Mary will do her part. The process of God becoming a man is beginning.

Both Mary and the Angel still have the typical plate behind their head, the halo that appears in most medieval art. But, she’s not beaming with joy. She’s a little out of sorts. Now that she is most blessed she has no idea what to think or what to do.

In this moment, with it all happening so quick and changing her life in an instant, Mary is indeed troubled. Here in Rossetti’s painting, Mary is human and real — precisely the servant God chose through whom to do a work.

2 Responses to “christmas art”

  1. Wren Says:

    I have never seen this painting before. It is indeed a rare look at Mary’s humanity. Thank you for pointing it out.

    Oh, and I have commented on here before, but my website and email addresses have changed, so it will probably go to you to be approved again.

  2. Wren Says:

    Heh. I guess not.