By Anne Leader
March 25 marks the Feast of the Annunciation, commemorating Gabriel’s visit to Mary with the message that she would bear the Son of God. Traditionally in Italy this day marked the first day of the new year. It was only with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in the late sixteenth century that Italian municipalities began marking the new year on 1 January (for example, Venice adopted the new system in 1582; Florence, in 1750).
The story of the Annunciation is told in Luke’s Gospel (1: 28-38), and his words form one of the basic Christian prayers: “Hail [Mary], full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Ave [Maria], gratia plena, Dominus tecum). As one of the primary Marian feasts, the Annunciation has been represented countless times by Italian artists in paintings, sculpture, mosaic, and manuscript illumination. Michael Baxandall has demonstrated how artists subtly portray one of several distinct moments during Gabriel’s astounding visit, with some artists choosing to show Mary’s surprise, others her fear, confusion, or humble acceptance of her incredible mission, when she responded, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1: 38).
Giotto, Gabriel and Virgin Annunciate, 1305-6, fresco. Scrovegni Chapel, Padua
Fra Angelico, The Annunication in an initial ‘R’, ca. 1425, tempera and gold on parchment. Museo di San Marco, Florence
Benedetto da Maiano, Altarpiece of the Annunciation, bef. 1489, marble. Mastrogiudici Chapel, Sant’Anna dei Lombardi, Naples
Andrea della Robbia, Annunciation, c. 1475, glazed terracotta. Chiesa Maggiore, La Verna
Lorenzo Ghiberti, The Annunciation, 1403-24, gilded bronze. Baptistery, Florence
Jacopo Pontormo, Annunciation, 1527-28, fresco. Cappella Capponi, Santa Felicità, Florence
Monte di Giovanni, Annunciation in an initial V, 1514, cod. S, n. 14, fol. 54r. Archivio Opera del Duomo di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence
Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, 1442-43, fresco. San Marco, Florence
Antonello da Messina, Virgin of the Annunciation, bef. 1479, oil on panel. Alte Pinakothek, Munich