Upon discovering that the Christmas decorations were up at my favorite Target store, I thought I’d go ahead and begin my “Advent in Art” series. The birth of Jesus, if you are Christian, signals a new beginning. It is the moment when God breaks into the world and hope is kindled. Announced by angels, the arrival of the Christ-child is a miraculous event where the qualities of humility, love, and poverty are affirmed. A manger, parents of low social and economic rank, and the presence of shepherds remind the reader that when the Creator took on flesh, he chose certain conditions that where contrary to the expectations of the time. They remain so today.
But before the birth took place, there was a visit by an angel to a young girl in Nazareth. Known as “The Annunciation”, the event is so significant in the history of the Christian church that there is no shortage of artwork depicting the conversation between Mary and the Angel, Gabriel. Almost all of the works on this theme involve the placement of Gabriel, Mary, and a dove most often representing the Holy Spirit. Part of the challenge and part of the joy of researching Christian art is seeking out those few examples that capture our imagination and pull us into the story. For example, consider this work from 1528 by Andrea Del Sarto at the right. At first glance it would seem that very little is happening between the angel and Mary. However, if you stay with it for a moment longer, something else is revealed. At the center of the piece is a piercing white light that seems to be making its way into the room. Mary looks down at the small Bible on the bench causing us to think of the Word in a much more significant way. There is more symbolism here, but I will leave it up to you to send me a comment to talk about it.
All for now. Advent season is coming. It’s worth celebrating.