In Romans 8:28, Paul speaks of a collaboration between God and those ‘who are called according to his purpose’, and of how they will be ‘conformed to the image’ of Christ. A calling, or vocation, to serve God and be conformed to Christ was central to the Dominican brothers for whom Fra Angelico painted this Annunciation. It is one of many frescoes which punctuate the architecture of the convent of San Marco, in Florence, where the artist himself was a friar.
These paintings intersected with the friars’ daily lives at every point. They were intended to facilitate the conformity of the individual to the community and, ultimately, to Christ. Most include a Dominican ‘exemplar’ whom the friars were encouraged to imitate: often St Dominic, who modelled himself on Christ, or the Virgin, nominal abbess of the order. Here it is St Peter Martyr, his head bleeding from the wound inflicted by the heretics who killed him, one of the ‘slaughtered sheep’ to whom Paul refers (v.36, c.f. Psalm 44:22).
The friars learned from these exemplars the proper response to the images before them, often through their physical attitudes and gestures, which were associated with particular states of prayer. Peter Martyr appears in a meditative mode of prayer suited to preparations for preaching. He is not anachronistically present at the Annunciation so much as contemplating it (just as the friar who saw it would do) and seeking to understand it in such a way that he can respond to it through his preaching and his behaviour.
The greatest example of vocation was supplied by the Virgin herself, whom we see here accepting the call to be the mother of God’s son. Her own room directly reflects the architecture of the friar’s cell and her presence serves as a constant reminder to him of her humble yet glorious vocation.
Hood, W. 1986. ‘Saint Dominic's Manners of Praying: Gestures in Fra Angelico's Cell Frescoes at S. Marco’, The Art Bulletin 68.2: 195–206
Hood, W. 1993. Fra Angelico at San Marco (New Haven and London: Yale University Press)
Reddaway, Chloë. R. 2016. Transformations in Persons and Paint: Visual Theology, Historical Images, and the Modern Viewer (Turnhout: Brepols), ch.5
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; 21because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. 27And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
28 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. 30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31 What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? 33Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; 34who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written,
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.