Filippo Lippi, as a Carmelite friar, would have been well-versed in Luke’s description of the Annunciation which he painted at least thirteen times. In this version the youthful Angel Gabriel has long since arrived and appears to float above the flowered lawn. His lowered feathered peacock wings follow the contours of the painting. The only movement is the white dove of the Holy Ghost fluttering towards the Virgin in a spinning spiral of shimmering golden light, sent by the hand of God emerging from the cloud of Heaven which overshadows the Virgin. She lowers her gaze in her submission as handmaid to the Lord, according to his word. Her right hand rests above her womb where a slit in her dress emanates golden rays, intimating the moment of conception. In the background the tiled floor leads towards her bed. The enclosed garden and lilies refer to the purity of the Virgin. The urn of lilies on the balustrade is carved with three feathers within a diamond ring, a symbol of the Medici family.
For this was painted for a secular setting, probably the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence. It was probably an overdoor, along with the pendant showing Seven Saints relevant to the Medici family (also in the National Gallery, London, NG667). Both paintings were subtly linked by Saint Cosmas in the latter work looking up and across at the hand of God in the Annunciation, and John the Baptist looking down and across to the Annunciation’s Holy Ghost, shown here in the form it would take when descending at Christ’s Baptism.
The Annunciation was an extremely popular subject in Florence. Not only was there a miracle-working fresco of the Annunciation in Santissima Annunziata, but the Florentine year began on 25 March (the feast of the Annunciation). Annual theatrical performances of the Annunciation took place, with God the Father in the storey above, and an angel lowered on pulleys into a special construction representing the house of the Virgin.
Gordon, Dillian. 2003. The Fifteenth Century Italian Paintings, Vol. I, National Gallery Catalogues (London: National Gallery), pp. 142–55 (with further bibliography)
Newbigin, Nerida. 1996. Feste d’Oltrarno: Plays in Churches in Fifteenth-Century Florence, Vol. I (Florence: Olschki), pp. 1–43
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. 30And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
33and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” 35And the angel said to her,
36And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37For with God nothing will be impossible.” 38And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.