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The Annunciation

Today marks the Feast of the Annunciation. Ordinarily this Feast Day falls on March 25th, but because of Holy Week the Feast Day is transferred to the Monday after the First Sunday after Easter, also known as Low Monday.

Fra Filippo Lippi, 1440. Tempera on panel, Basilica di San Lorenzo, Florence

Annunciation. Fra Filippo Lippi, 1440. Tempera on panel, Basilica di San Lorenzo, Florence

The Annunciation in the moment of Incarnation, but more specifically it refers to the conversation between the Virgin Mary and the Angel Gabriel, as outlined in Luke's Gospel. (Luke 1:26 -38 NRSV)

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.


And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He 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, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”


And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no husband?”


And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And 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. For with God nothing will be impossible.”


And 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.


Michael Baxandall in his book, Painting & Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy, outlines five different moments present in this interaction and subsequently in Italian Renaissance Art. He points us to the explanation by fifteenth century preacher, Fra Roberto Caracciola da Lecce, who refers to the five moments as Laudable Conditions.


Conturbatio (Disquiet) – When the angel approached Mary, St. Luke tells us that she was greatly troubled. In our own lives, sometimes we are troubled, or awakened from complacency by the presence of the Divine.

Cogitatio (Reflection)– Mary listens closely to the message that the Angel Gabriel brings to her. She considers, it, but has further questions.

Interrogatio (Inquiry) – Mary responds to the angel with a question. What he tells her is impossible to her human understanding.

Humiliatio (Submission) – Mary accepts the words of the angel and believes that God will do great things. She refers to herself