Duccio, The Annunciation. National Gallery, London.

The Archangel Gabriel announces to the Virgin that she is to give

birth to the Son of God. She holds in her hand a Bible that prophesies* the birth; on her right is a vase of lilies, symbolizing her purity.

The Bible is open at a passage that reads:

"Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son and he shall be called [Emmanuel]." From the Old Testament (Isaiah 7: 14).

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There are signs of the kinds of experimentation that prefigured renaissance art: the backgound of pillars is drawn with a sense of perspective, and the clothes of Raphael are drawn with a sense of motion. Nonetheless, the poses are stylized, and the allegorical meaning of the painting is stronger than its realism -- the lilies, the background of gold*, and the Bible conveniently held open.

The symbolic meaning of gold in the natural order of nature is explored elsewhere on this site CD-ROM.

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This scene comes from the 'Maestà', a huge altarpiece painted on both sides by the Sienese painter Duccio and his workshop for the high altar of the cathedral in Siena. It was dismembered in 1771.

Footnotes

  1. A prophecy

    The Bible is open at a passage that reads:

    "Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son and he shall be called [Emmanuel]." From the Old Testament (Isaiah 7: 14).

  2. Gold as symbol

    The symbolic meaning of gold in the natural order of nature is explored elsewhere on this site CD-ROM.