The Annunciation is a Christian celebration of the iconic moment that the archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother to the Son of God, Jesus. The story of the Annunciation derives chiefly from the biblical Gospel of Luke, and has been portrayed abundantly and variously in many visual art forms from the earliest centuries of Christianity and Christian iconography. This essay will explore the depiction of the Annunciation and symbolism in the period of the Italian Renaissance and pay particular attention towards the development of the focus on spiritualism towards naturalism through the refined language of expression and gesture from the 14th century to the late 15th century.
As a student of Duccio di Buoninsegna who was an Italian artist and actively worked in the city of Siena, Tuscany, Simone Martini's most famous painting "The Annunciation and the Two Saints" (1333) (Fig. 1) shows influence of the Sienese style of painting at a time when Byzantine art was very popular in the 14th century (Kleiner, 2010:387). This is made evident by the expansive use of gold in the background space behind the figures and flowing throughout the panelled-painting, the attention paid particularly to decorative pattern, as well as the detail and subtle use of sinuous line and rich colours to create pattern, which are all characteristics of Sienese-styled religious iconography. The painting is considered very beautiful, executed with tight, elegant brushstrokes and bears a medieval interest in the representation of the supernatural and spiritual.
The overall artwork is composed of a large panel containing 'The Annunciation' with two others flanking it said to have been painted by Lippo Memmi, which depicts two lateral figures of Saint Ansanus on the left and Saint Giulitta on the right (Kleiner, 2010:387). Four prophets are depicted from left to right above the general scene of the Annunciation as Jeremiah, Ezechial, Isaiah and Daniel holding scrolls, with the centred fifth round space left empty to represent God the Father (Fossi, 2004:126).
Fig. 1 captures the very moment that the archangel Gabriel comes down from the heavenly realm to earth to announce to Mary that she will conceive the Christ-child and he shall be called Jesus. The gold of his crown is representative of the “celestial realm that he has left to deliver this message” (Kleiner, 2010:387). The announcement is depicted very much in the moment as the words are quite literally illustrated with the text "Ava gratia plena Dominus tecum" (Van Dijk, 1999:420), which leave his mouth from left to right as if they were encapsulated in a speech bubble. The phrase is in fact inscribed in Latin and reads as "Hail, Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou among women” (Van Dijk, 1999:420). The draping cloth around Gabriel’s gold-infused light blue robe whips around the angel as if he had just land and his wings, which are still erect, depict an effortless grace...