The Annunciation by Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi

Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi

The Annunciation, 1333, Tempera on wood, gold leaf, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence, Inv. 1890 nos. 451, 452, 453, Scala / Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali / Art Resource, NY

Close Close
Zoom in Zoom in
Zoom out Zoom out

The Angel’s Greeting

Commentary by

The Sienese painter Simone Martini, has painted the moment when the Archangel Gabriel has just alighted on earth with soaring peacock wings. His golden cloak knotted around his neck still swirls in flight, the laces fastening his jewelled coronet still fly through the air. He is crowned with olive leaves and holds a fruit-bearing olive branch, symbolizing peace. With an elegant forefinger he indicates the dove of the Holy Ghost borne in a golden sphere by cherubim and seraphim. Before him the vase of white lilies refers to the purity of the Virgin.

‘Troubled’ (v.29), she shrinks from him, drawing her cloak around her, inclining her head so that the words from his mouth AVE MARIA GRATIA PLENA DOMINUS TECUM rendered in raised letters of gilded gesso go directly to her ear. Mary is careful to keep her place in the book she has been reading, traditionally the book of Isaiah: immediately above her in the roundel contained within the nineteenth-century frame is the prophet Isaiah with the text from his prophecy Ecce Virgo Concipiet, while the texts of three other prophets, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel (all interpreted in Christian tradition as referring to the virgin birth) are also included. Further texts from Luke 1:30, 31, and 35 are inscribed on Gabriel’s stole, and his name is inscribed on his sleeve.

The texts would have resonated with the clergy of Siena Cathedral for which this altarpiece was painted, and lay worshippers would have enjoyed the sheer beauty of the surface textures. The eye is invited to linger over the chequered Tartar silk, the multi-coloured marble floor, Gabriel’s cloth-of-gold dalmatic with its pattern of flowers and leaves, the radiant tooled haloes, the throne of intarsia (a speciality of Sienese woodworkers), the cloth-of-gold hanging over the throne, the realistically painted lilies (nowadays also known as Madonna lilies).

 

References

Cecchi, Alessandro et al. (ed.). 2001. Simone Martini e l’Annunciazione degli Uffizi (Milan: Silvana)

Martindale, Andrew. 1988. Simone Martini: Complete Edition (Oxford: Phaidon), pp. 187–190