The Annunciation in Art


This morning at breakfast Bella was busy coloring a picture of the annunciation that I’d printed off for her yesterday. When she’d finished coloring she decided she wanted to add some text. So she found her Bible story book and began to copy out the words from the story: “God sent the angel Gabriel to a little town called Nazareth…” She back to copying them out at dinner tonight (after taking off most of the day for playing) and still at it after Dom had tucked her into bed when I went in to say goodnight.

Once again I was struck at how she finds her own little ways to observe the liturgical events that mean something to her. And also how unschoolers are right, children who are allowed to follow their passions will learn well beyond any curriculum we could set them. If I’d tried to assign copywork, even something a fraction of the length, she’d have melted into a sobbing puddle. But when it was her own idea, she went at it with a will. Catechesis and art and handwriting all accomplished as well as a great satisfaction. She even pointed out to me that she’d done the floor in black and white squares just like Vermeer in his painting of the lace maker.

Something New, Something Other: An Annunciation Diptych Joanne McPortland’s reflection on similarities between artistic depictions of the annunciation and of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Christ.

There is the certain similarity of positions, although in the Annunciation it is Mary of Nazareth who turns away while the angel my kneel before her, and in the Noli me tangere Mary of Magdala falls to her knees while the Risen Christ turns slightly away. There is the tradition that both encounters occur in a garden—the walled garden (or closed room, with a garden visible beyond) of Mary’s virginity, the burial garden in which the Magdalene mistakes Jesus for a gardener—with its echoes of the reversal of the Expulsion from Paradise. Both begin with a greeting that overcomes fear, and both conclude with immediate evangelical action: Mary of Nazareth hastes to the hill country to be with her kinswoman, Elizabeth; Mary of Magdala speeds to her brothers with the good news.

There are other resonances that act like open and close parentheses. Mary of Nazareth wonders how she can be with child without ever having known the embrace of the flesh; the Risen Christ refuses Mary of Magdala’s fleshy embrace. (Neither is meant as a rejection of the embodied love by which God blesses marriages and families, but a signal that Something New, Something Other is happening here.) A filled womb, an empty tomb. The first time we hear of Mary of Nazareth in the scriptural story of Jesus; the last time we hear of Mary of Magdala.

Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.