Feast of the Annunciation

If you’ve followed my art for a little while, you’ve probably gathered that I love to dive down rabbit-holes of research…art for me has become more than creating a picture – it’s become a springboard for learning so many new things.

I’d never really gone too deep into the history of the Annunciation before. This beautiful feast, celebrated on March 25, has an incredible historical context within church celebration, and I’ve found that all these details of bygone days add a lot of meaning to the feast itself.

“Annunciation” by John William Waterhouse, oil on canvas, 1914

The feast of the Annunciation celebrates the story of the Archangel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she would conceive & bear the son of God, and it also celebrates Mary’s fiat (“let it be done”), her beautiful moment of humility and acceptance. What I never knew until recently, though, is that the church tied the celebration of the Annunciation to the memorial of Christ’s crucifixion in a very tangible way.

The supposed historical date of the crucifixion, according to Medieval tradition, was on March 25 (though it’s officially commemorated on Good Friday, tied to the movable feast of Easter). The Annunciation was placed on this date of March 25 as well, situating it nine months before Christmas (giving continuity to the whole Christmas cycle), and also meaningfully uniting the announcement of Mary’s pregnancy with the eventual crucifixion of her child. With that placement of dates, combined with the nearness of the Spring Equinox, the symbolism of the alpha and omega – the perfect circle – really hits home in a new way.

This drove the imagery of lily crucifixes in some Anglican churches – that poignant combination of the lily, delivered at the Annunciation as a symbol of Mary’s purity, with the crucifixion.

This is what I love about the liturgical calendar – it illuminates so many stories using unspoken language! Whenever I stumble upon history like this, it’s like that moment in the Wizard of Oz when the world goes from black & white to color.

When working on my own little Annunciation painting, I was feeling especially inspired by Art Nouveau styles, and I decided to go out of my comfort zone and use a dip pen to do my line work. It involved a lot of trial and error…with plenty of smudges and ink splots…but working with the dip pen made the whole process feel more organic, since the lines were less uniform. I also used iridescent gold gouache for the halos and gold outlines, though that iridescence doesn’t get picked up by the scanner.

For the flora & fauna in this picture, I went with lilies of course (symbolizing purity, and traditionally shown as being given by the Archangel Gabriel to Mary at the Annunciation or growing in a vase beside her), as well as violets (legend says that when Mary said her ‘fiat‘, violets – symbolizing humility and modesty – bloomed outside her door).

I used a Swallow to represent Gabriel…in the Renaissance, swallows were symbolic of the Incarnation, and they often appear in nests in paintings of the Annunciation or Nativity. They were thought to hibernate in the winter and appear in the spring, almost as if reborn.

Thanks so much for following along this winding path of liturgical history! Did you do anything for the Annunciation this year?

Take care,

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