Today 25th of March is the feast of The Annunciation, also referred to as the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to Mary that she would conceive and bear a son through a virgin birth and become the mother of Jesus Christ.
It’s easy to remember this date, as it’s a full nine months of pregnancy before Christmas, the birthday of Jesus. And it’s approximately the start of spring and the moment of the northern equinox when day and night are equally long. In medieval terms, start of spring is identified as the date of an unusual number of Biblical events: Adam’s and Eve’s fall into sin; Cain’s murder of Abel; Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac; the martyrdom of John the Baptist; and the Crucifixion. Still more strongly associated with this date is the Annunciation, at which, according to the Gospel of Luke, the archangel Gabriel brought word to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive the Son of God: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”
The Annunciation has been one of the most frequent subjects of Christian art. Its composition and details vary in accordance with its setting: the Virgin might appear on a throne, in a loggia, in a bedroom, or outdoors, and she often is shown sewing or reading. A variant of particular interest is the depiction of the Annunciation at the Spring, also known as the Annunciation at the Well. Inspired by accounts preserved in early apocryphal (non-Bible) texts such as the Gospel of James, this variant of the Annunciation depicts the Virgin Mary greeted by the angel Gabriel as she is fetching water at a well.
There are two basic sources that describe the Annunciation. The Gospel of Luke (1:26-38) and the Gospel of James (v.11). Luke’s Gospel is part of the traditional Bible books and mostly the story that is depicted in Western art from the 14th Century onwards. The other source is the 2nd Century Gospel of James, which is an “apocryphal” book, meaning it’s not included in the traditional Bible collection of books. James’s Gospel is mostly the source in Eastern art up to the 15th Century and – remarkably – again by British painters in the 19th Century. The Gospel of James describes how one day Mary took the pitcher and went forth to draw water at a well when she heard an angelic voice: “Hail, you are highly favored, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women.” And Mary looked around on the right and on the left to see from where this voice could have come.” During this first encounter, at a well or spring, the angel was heard but not seen. Mary appeared to be alone. Mary then went inside and it’s there that the angel appeared to her in person, while Mary is sitting on a throne-like chair.
From the 14th Century onward most Annunciations in Western art focus more on the story as written in the Gospel of Luke rather than the apocryphal Gospel of James. They dispense with the pitcher and the well and more and more they will also omit Mary sitting on a the throne-like seat. Many more images placed the event in a specific and unified space such as a portico (Fra Angelico), a private home (Rubens), or a church (Van Eyck).
When Cosimo de’ Medici rebuilt the convent of San Marco, he commissioned Fra Angelico to decorate the walls with frescos. This included the inside of the monk’s cells and inside the corridors; around fifty pieces in total. Out of all of the frescos at the convent, the Annunciation is the most well known. This fresco was not intended just for aesthetic purposes. Running across the loggia at the bottom of the fresco there is an inscription that instructs the viewer: “Virginis Intacte Cvm Veneris Ante Figvram Preterevndo Cave Ne Sileatvr Ave.” It means “When you come before the image of the Ever-Virgin take care that you do not neglect to say an Ave”. This was a daily reminder for the monks to pray.
March 25 was used as New Year’s Day in many pre-modern Christian countries. The holiday was moved to January 1 in France by Charles IX in 1564. In England, the feast of the Annunciation came to be known as Lady Day, and Lady Day marked the beginning of the English new year until 1752.
Here are the two stories, written by Luke and by James, both accounts of the Annunciation and written down in the first few centuries after the birth of Jesus.The story as told by Luke in his Gospel (1:26-38) is focusing on the discussion between the Angel and Mary. It’s as follows:
Luke 1: 26-38
God sent the angel Gabriel, to a virgin named Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her
The story as told by James in his Gospel (v.11) gives also details about the setting. It happens at the well and inside Mary’s house, and it mentions that Mary is doing some sewing and needlework. It’s as follows:
And she took the pitcher and went out to fill it with water. And suddenly a voice could be heard, saying: “Hail, you who has received grace; the Lord is with you; blessed are yiou among women!” And Mary looked round to the right hand and to the left, to see from where this voice came. And she went away, trembling, to her house, and put down the pitcher; and she took her sewing basket with needlework, and she sat down on her seat. And then, look, an angel of the Lord stood before her, saying: “Fear not, Mary; for you have found grace before the Lord, and you shall conceive, according to His word.” And she is hearing, reasoned with herself, saying: “Shall I conceive by the Lord, the living God? and shall I give birth as every woman gives birth?” And the angel of the Lord said: “Not so, Mary; for the power of the Lord shall overshadow you: wherefore also that holy thing which shall be born with you shall be called the Son of the Highest. And you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” And Mary said: “See, I am the servant of the Lord before His face: let it be upon me according to your word.”
This is a story of ambition, pride and downfall. It’s about Icarus (Ἴκαρος) and his father Daedalus (Δαίδαλος) and how they escaped imprisonment, flying out of the infamous Labyrinth on the isle of Crete. But with a tragic ending. Icarus flies too high and too close to sun; he loses his wings, falls out of the sky, plunges into the water, and drowns in what’s now called the Icarian Sea. A story from Greek mythology and written down in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
According to the classical Greek legend, Daedalus was a master architect most famously responsible for building the Labyrinth on the island on Crete, as prison for the Minotaur monster, a half-man, half-bull. Because of his knowledge of the Labyrinth, King Minos of Crete shut Daedalus and his son Icarus, up in his own created Labyrinth, to simply keep the mysteries of the labyrinth a secret. Daedalus decided that for him and his son the only way to escape was up through the air.
Daedalus constructed for himself and Icarus sets of wings made from feathers held together by beeswax. He then cautioned his son to fly a middle course: neither so low that the sea would wet the feathers and make them heavy, nor so high that the heat of the sun would damage them.
“Daedalus said: Let me warn you, Icarus, to take the middle way between earth and heaven, if you fly too low the moisture from the sea weighs down your wings, or if you go too high, the sun scorches them. Travel between the extremes. Take me as your guide and follow the course I show you!” (From Ovid’s Metamorphoses book VIII. Verse 183-235)
Overcome by a feeling of pride and confidence, Icarus disobeyed his father and soared high into the sky trying to quench his thirst. But he came too close to the sun. And without warning, the heat from the sun melted the wax holding his feathers together. One by one, Icarus’s feathers fell like snowflakes. Icarus kept flapping his “wings”, but he had no feathers left and was only flapping his bare arms. Then he fell into the sea and drowned.
“Icarus, Icarus where are you? Which way should I be looking, to see you?”, screamed Daedalus. Finally, Daedalus found the body of his son floating amidst feathers. Cursing his inventions, he took the body to the nearest island and buried it there. The island where Icarus was buried is named Icaria.
What do we learn from this story? Icarus is instructed to fly between the extremes; not too high but also not too low. This is a warning to avoid being too ambitious while also not becoming completely unambitious. One need to find a golden ratio. In the story are significant changes of fortune. When Daedalus and Icarus start their flight, it marks a change from prison to freedom, from bad to good fortune but then comes the moment that Icarus gets overconfident and flies too high, he wants to reach the sun! With as result that his wings disintegrate, and his fortune changes from good to bad. Pride goes before the fall! The story of Icarus is the perfect example of hubris!
Today March 19th is the day dedicated to Saint Joseph. Who is he? Joseph is one of the three members of the Holy Family, together with the Virgin Mary and her child Jesus.He is a carpenter from Nazareth and a widower, who married the Virgin Marry at that time already pregnant with Jesus. The virgin birth of Jesus is the Christian doctrine that Jesus was conceived and born by his mother Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit and without sexual intercourse. Joseph is therefore Jesus’s foster-father. In most paintings with the Holy Family, Joseph has a minor role and just in the background. Only from the 15th century artists gave more attention to Joseph and made him visible as head of the Holy Family. When the bible speaks about Jesus’s brothers and sisters, those are children of Joseph from a previous marriage.Saint Joseph is the patron saint of family life, fathers, unborn children and carpenters and in Western Christianity his celebration day is March 19th. And in Italy, this special day of Saint Joseph (San Giuseppe in Italian) is also Father’s Day. Joseph might be a lesser celebrity in the biblical world, but as “father” he is a figure that means so much in everyone’s life. Even when he is a foster-father.
This is the right-hand panel of a triptych. The old man Joseph, who is engaged to the Virgin Mary, works in his carpenter shop. The mousetraps he made, on the bench and in the shopwindow opening onto the street, are symbols of the crucifixion of Jesus which will only happen 33 years later. Jesus on the cross is considered the devil’s mousetrap.
Looking at the triptych as a whole, the middle panel shows the moment when the Virgen Mary gets the message from the angel Gabriel that she will be pregnant with Jesus. It’s even the moment of the divine impregnation itself. On the right panel Joseph in his workshop, busy making the mousetraps and no idea what is happening to Mary at this very moment. On the left the donors of this triptych.
When Joseph was engaged to Mary he found out she became pregnant, and certainly not by him! Joseph was very much doubting if he should indeed marry her. As he considered splitting up, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” As is written in the bible, see Matthew 1: 18-20. On the picture above you can see Mary, pregnant with Jesus, and Joseph as an old man doubting about what happened. This is not a very common image to see in paintings and it’s obviously a mysterious element in the whole story and even a bit embarrassing for Joseph. The message from the angel to Joseph is then solving this element to everyone’s satisfaction, including Joseph’s. From the 15th century the Holy Family (Maria, Jesus and Joseph) as a subject became way more popular and that helped to raise Joseph in public esteem. Joseph is from then on represented more sympathetically and more prominently.
This painting by George de la Tour (1642, from the Louvre) cannot be missed in any story about Joseph. As patron saint of carpenters, Joseph is working on a beam, helped by his foster son Jesus. The arrangement of pieces of wood on the floor evokes a cross and prefigures the crucifixion of Jesus. The young Jesus with the candlelight shining on his face makes already a reference to becoming the “Light of the World”. George de la Tour shows that even Jesus lived a simple and innocent earthly life, but he included divinity’s presence by way of the light of the candle.
Here we see the Holy family with a playing Jesus and two caring parents in a domestic scene. It shows home life but also work, symbolized by Saint Joseph’s carpenter tools on the right. The almost leading role of Joseph, the foster father, corresponds to the increased worship of Joseph as a father figure within the Holy Family. Over the centuries the image of Joseph developed from a grumpy old man to a caring – and younger – father.
This is a painting from the Pre-Raphaelite painter Millais, showing a scene from the boyhood of Jesus and placed in Joseph’s carpenter workshop. It’s full of symbolic messages. Jesus, as a boy, has wounded himself at a nail and is being comforted by his parents Mary and Joseph. Blood is dripping from his hand on his foot. Both spots of blood are foreshadowing the crucifixion. On the right we see the young Saint John the Baptist with a bowl of water, as reference to the baptizing of Jesus Christ. At the back on the wall is a carpenter’s triangle, referring to the Holy Trinity of God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus son of God. And the dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, is sitting on the ladder.
The pre-Raphaelites wanted to strip-away all traditions of painting since Raphael. Millais removed all beauty and placed the scene in an ordinary carpenter workshop, with common people as the Holy Family. The picture prompted many negative reviews. The Times described it as ‘revolting’ and objected to the way in which the artist had dared to depict the Holy Family as ordinary, lowly people in a humble carpenter’s shop. Charles Dickens was one of the most vehement critics, describing the young Christ as ‘a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-headed boy, in a bed gown’. The painting can be seen in the Tate Gallery, London, where it’s now considered one of their masterpieces.
This painting illustrates the belief that Jesus was both human and divine, by placing him in the middle of the two “Trinities”. The vertical line is the Holy Trinity, with God the Father, the Holy Ghost (the dove), and Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus looks up towards heaven, but affectionately holds hands with his human parents, Mary and Joseph. The three together, as the horizontal line, make up the Earthly Trinity. Mary’s loving gaze and gracefully upturned palm are directed towards her young son. Joseph looks out of the picture towards us, inviting us to adore Jesus. Murillo transforms a complex theological principle into a very human and accessible image. With Jospeh as the connecting figure between us humans and the divine world of God.
16th, 1723, birth of Joshua Reynolds. English painter and the most
fashionable portraitist of the 18th Century elegant society of
England. As a young painter he made his grand European tour and studied all the
Italian Old Masters. This influenced his style of painting, which we now know
as the Grand Style. His clients were portraited in the most impressive and perfect
way. Reynolds portraits show lavish dresses and hats fit for Royal Ascot. His
paintings have often been inspiration for Hollywood costume designers.
Reynolds had a busy career. No exception were 6 sitters a day, each for an
hour. And next to work he was an incredible socialite, social climber and
self-promoter Reynolds was a smooth talker, friendly to everyone and had no
enemies. He stayed single his whole life, but of some of his female clients it
was said that they visited his house for more sittings than strictly necessary
for painting a portrait.
Reynolds also painted so-called “fancy pictures”, which are character studies. Painted after someone, often a family member of the artist, but now mostly unknown who the model was. Here is Reynolds “The Age of Innocence”. It’s from the Tate London and an all-time favorite of the public. Reynolds himself entitled this painting simply “A Little Girl”. The current and more poetic title has been given after Reynold’s death.
use of pigments for paint was of less high standard. His paintings have fading
colors and the blacks tend to crack. But better to have a “Reynolds” of low
quality than none at all. Sir Joshua Reynolds died in 1792 and was buried in St
Paul’s Cathedral in London.