Luc-Olivier Merson, Annunciation (1908)
Having begun this series with a painting of the Annunciation to Joseph by Alexander Ivanov, and having featured Luc-Olivier Merson’s painting of the Flight into Egypt, I would like to offer Merson’s less-well known but equally memorable depiction of the Annunciation to Mary.
Unlike many Annunciation paintings, Merson does not focus on the encounter between two personal beings. His Annunciation is not colored by the dynamics of male-female interaction, a theme that so absorbs our present culture, and implicit in some historical treatments of the moment. Here we have a feminine or an androgynous angel, who instead of being face-to-face with Mary, hovers above another building.
I think Merson depicts the moment just after the angel shares the news with Mary, and before she sings her magnificat. Mary is wrapped in white, suggesting her purity, but also prefiguring the burial shrouds with which her son will be wrapped. Her gaze is focused on the unlikely stem of lilies she finds on the ground, outside a dark open doorway through which she emerges. Both symbolize resurrection. Doves grace the air in the foreground, a traditional way to suggest the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit.
Rather than gesturing toward Mary, the angel points to the heavens! Here we find a spiritual sign in accord with the Gospel. It depicts a call. The scene symbolizes what God is doing, and what God wants to accomplish.
May our Lord, who was and is, and is to come, bless us and our loved ones during this holy time.
For a more extended reflection on Merson’s Annunciation painting, some comparison with the rather different Annunciation image on the Santana Abraxas album cover, and in relation to the Gospel for the 4th Sunday of Advent, click this link: Advent 4 B 14 copy_for 2022 blog_PDF
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