Monday, March 31, 2008
An Image for the Feast of the Annunciation
Happy feast of the Annunciation--this year, a movable feast! I like it when the Annunciation falls during the Easter Season, because the Incarnation is really the very beginning of the Paschal Mystery.
I found this painting while looking for images of the Annunciation on-line. It was painted by a contemporary Catholic artist named John Collier. Even with a fine arts background--I was a B.F.A. candidate at an art college before I changed my major to Philosophy--I didn't know that there were any contemporary Catholic artists! My art school was so secular that on Ash Wednesday, everybody just assumed that I'd gotten a little over-zealous with my charcoal during my life drawing classes.
I think this painting is great, even though I'm sure it will make some of my more traditionally-minded friends (you know who you are!) cringe. I can just hear them now: "What!? Mary wearing saddle shoes!?"
I see this painting as sort of a modern adaption of the Renaissance convention of depicting Biblical scenes in contemporary settings, with the subjects dressed in the clothes of the day. Because the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance are no longer "modern" to us, I think we tend not to appreciate how odd it is for Mary to be dressed as an Italian noble woman.
While I certainly would not advocate this sort of modernizing of traditional religious scenes as a normative form of Catholic iconography--in fact, most of the other contemporary examples which I have seen tend to be rather unsuccessful--I think this particular image works very well because of the sensitivity with which it portrays the subject.
Because the Annunciation is such an awesome and glorious event, I think that it is sometimes easy for us to forget the very real human elements in the story. By stripping the scene of some of the useual Baroque or Medieval trappings, and by placing it in a setting familiar to us, this painting helps us to recall the fact that Mary was an actual person who was more like us than not. And it is important that we remember this, because if Mary wasn't human, then there is no point in trying to imitate her!
We believe that Mary was totally sinless and perfect, but at the time of the Annunciation she was still a young girl who was living a rather ordinary life. When we reflect on this, it's easy to understand why the angel Gabriel had to tell her not to be afraid.
In her book The Reed of God, Caryll Houselander points out that at the Annunciation, God's entire plan of salvation depended on the answer of someone who was basically a child. This only underlines how remarkable it truly was when Mary was able to say confidently, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to your word."
Naturally, the example of Mary's "yes" means a great deal to me in my own life, especially as it concerns my vocation. However, all of us are called to say yes to God's will. It's good to remember that Mary can help us to say "yes" like she did, even and especially when we feel alone, scared, unprepared, or confused.