Thursday 4th December – The Handmaid of the Lord

‘The Annunciation’ by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898

I did not have time to write a proper post today, but I am planning on writing concerning Mary very soon, so I felt that this would be an appropriate lead up to that.

There have been so many representations of the Annunciation over the centuries; at home my family actually has a little book compiling a number of the most famous ones, starting with the earliest and moving through to the most modern (some of which are rather questionable).

There are so many that I love, from Fra Angelico’s medieval image- complete with the winged Angel Gabriel, the ray of light depicting the descent of the Holy Spirit, and Adam and Eve fleeing the garden of Eden in the background– to Beatrice Emma Parsons’ pre-Raphaelite depiction of the moment – which is like a scene from a fairy-tale, apparently taking place in an English country garden.

Henry Ossawa Tanner’s painting, which I have chosen to head this post, is more ‘realist’ in its approach; trying to come closer to how the encounter between angel and maiden might have looked in the context it occurred. Of course there will always be problems with trying to portray angels realistically, as their appearances don’t tend to be dwelt on excessively in the Bible. But I think that Tanner’s offering is very effective in showing the power of the moment; its intensity and extraordinariness. Mary is shown as a normal young girl, startled from sleep, a little fearful, but attentive and full of wonder. Her hands are clasped in prayer, for her love for God is such that her first thought is always for His will. And so, although her lips are not yet open in speech, her answer is ready:

“You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38)


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