Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Images of the Annunciation


Christmas is a season that has many iconic symbols - the tree  and star just to name a few. However, many painters throughout the ages used particular images to covey meaning in their works depicting the Annunciation. Contemplating these paintings and the symbols depicted can aid in appreciating and understanding this miraculous event.

The Annunciation fresco by Joseph Erns Tunner (1830) in church Chiesa della Trinita dei Monti.

Symbol of the Book

In all of these paintings, Mary is shown close to a book or holding one. The assumption is that she has been reading. This symbol indicates that Mary was open to receiving knowledge and if we, like Mary, are actively seeking wisdom and truth, we also will be open to receiving divine messages and blessings.

Jacques Yverni (fl.1410–1438), The Annunciation, c.1435

Symbol of the Barrier

You can see in the paintings posted that the artists enclosed Mary within a barrier of some kind, a structure or a wall. This symbolizes her virginity (she hasn’t been touched) and also  the barrier between heaven and earth. The angel is not able to come into direct contact with Mary or us but there is communication between the other world through that invisible veil.

The Annunciation to Mary – Lily and Violet, Holly Schaptker

The White Lily Image 

Throughout the ages, the white lily has been a symbol of purity. It symbolizes Mary’s virginity and also serves as a visual barrier between her and the angel. Virginity is an important symbol in the story of Jesus’ birth because it emphasized that the Christ child was holy, both human and divine, born miraculously. 

The Annunciation Sandro Botticelli

Symbol of the Angel

The angel image is a messenger from God. The angel Gabriel in particular who came to Mary, features in biblical stories as God’s messenger, a middleman between man and the divine. In the annunciation story he tells Mary that she will conceive a child through the Holy Spirit. 


I find it fascinating how different artists throughout the ages have used similar symbols to depict the Annunciation. Contemplating the images within each painting leads to a richer meaning and understanding of the story. 


I found a great deal of inspiration and information from The Soul of Christmas, Thomas Moore (2016)

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