Raffaello Sanzio, known as Raphael (Urbino, Italy 1483 – Rome, Italy 1520), The Annunciation, 1502-1504, tempera on panel, 27 cm x 50 cm, Vatican City, Vatican Museums.
25 March, Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.
This small painting is part of the predella of a large altarpiece depicting the Coronation of Mary. It is called Oddi Altarpiece because it was painted by Raphael for the altar of the Oddi family chapel in the church of San Francesco al Prato in Perugia, Italy. The painting, delivered at the beginning of the sixteenth century, is the youthful work considered the closest to the style of Perugino, the master of the great painter from Urbino.
Observing how Raphael depicted the Gospel scene, we are struck by some details. The first thing that certainly attracts our gaze is the place where the scene is represented: it is a large covered but not completely enclosed space with soaring Corinthian columns. The design of the floor only amplifies the symmetry that seems to dominate and trace the space itself. There is a centre which is the origin of all the lines and around which the painting itself is built.
Even the landscape that opens up in the background strikes us: with its hills, turreted buildings, and a waterway crossed by a two-arch donkey-back bridge, it seems to be almost the backdrop for the main scene that is represented in the foreground.
Let us finally come to the two main characters of the scene: Mary and the Archangel Gabriel.
Mary is sitting on the right side of the painting, with one hand holding an open booklet resting on her legs, while with the other she seems to be displaying the concentration of her prayer going up to God. Her red dress, simple and elegant at the same time, is covered by a large blue cloak falling off from her right shoulder to the ground, creating a swirl of folds that embellishes the person of Mary.
The Archangel Gabriel is on the left side of the painting, greeting the Virgin and holding a white lily in his left hand. He is dressed in a beautiful wide and fluffy red habit and is about to interrupt the Virgin's prayer to bring her the announcement from God. What surprises us is to see how the angel’s habit is agitated by his own movement, as if he had just glided down to speak to Mary.
Raphael's exceptional skill can also be seen in a small painting like this, where a few details are enough to make each viewer capable of capturing beauty, contemplation, and spirituality.
The perfect space, represented and described here with a rigorous geometric perspective, the symmetrical position of the two characters (even though Virgin is closer to the centre, almost as if to underline her greater importance than the angel), and all the rest contribute to making us enter into the mystery.
Humble servant of the Lord,
love awakened by grace,
God has chosen you.
Blessed one, you accept the message
of the Master of Life.
Fertile land swept by the wind of God,
your clay feeds the seed,
God blesses you.
The Word can germinate in your silence,
you bring Jesus Christ.
Joy of the Church in time,
you bring hope for the Kingdom:
Christ is alive!
Illuminate our path until dawn,