The Annunciation by Fra Angelico is one the most beautiful pieces of art of the Florentine Quattrocento. It was painted between 1425 and 1426 by the Dominican monk Guido di Pietro, better known as Fra Angelico.
It is located at the Museo Nacional del Prado (Prado Museum), where it entered in 1861 from the Monastery of Las Descalzas Reales (literally “Monastery of the Royal Barefooted) in Madrid.
Indeed it is not a painting, but an altarpiece. It was part of the church of the Convent of San Domenico in Fiesole, a village on the outskirts of Florence.
This church that had three altars was consecrated in 1435. First altar on the right held this altarpiece of The Annunciation by Fra Angelico.
The two other were the Coronation of the Virgin (in the Louvre Museum at the present time), and a triptych whose middle panel painting portrays the Virgin and Child with Angels (it continues in the Florentine church).
The Convent of San Domenico in Fiesole sold the panel painting in 1611 to afford the construction work of the new bell tower. This panel painting was purchased for the Duke of Lerma, who donated it to the Church of the Dominicans in Valladolid.
Florence of the 15th century
Florentine art from the beginning of the 15th century brings together the influences of the international Gothic, together with the developments of what the Renaissance will be.
The precision of the details is one the features of the influence from the northern Europe. In the case of The Annunciation this precision is mainly visible at the thoroughness used to draw the flowers from Eden and the wings of St. Gabriel.
On the other side, the conception of space (mistakes in perspective) and large size figures (the altarpiece is 190,3 x 191,5 cm) evoke these early works of the Italian Renaissance.
Guido di Pietro, the author
Real name of Fra Angelico is Guido di Pietro. He was born around 1395 in a wealthy family from Vicchio. After joining the Dominican convent in Fiesole, he received the name Fra Giovanni de Fiesole. Some years after his death he began to be known as Fra Angelico.
He moved to Florence at a very young age to start his training as manuscript illuminator. That learning is evident in the precision and delicacy which he executed many of the details of his works.
Find out next a review of this fascinating altarpiece: The Annunciation by Fra Angelico.
Fra Angelico, following the medieval tradition, portrays an Annunciation with an educational purpose. Adam and Eve have broken the covenant between God and Man, but the birth of Jesus Christ will redeem mankind.
On the left side of the panel painting, he portrays the precise moment when the Angel expulse Adam and Eve from Paradise. In addition, so that there is no doubt, Fra Angelico portrays them dressed: they are already aware of their nakedness.
To accentuate the future that awaits them outside of Eden, Fra Angelico girds thorns to their clothes like a belt.
Their gestures are also important. Adam seems to be regretful, worried about the consequences of his act. For her part, Eve joins her hands in an attitude of prayer.
However, we find allusions to salvation. At the feet of Adam and Evan we do not see apples, but roses. The roses refer to the rosary, a prayer taught by Our Lady to St. Dominic. In this way, a way of redeeming the sins committed is insinuated.
It is also present it in the little swallow, located in the brace of the arch. The white color of his breast refers to the joy of the birth of Jesus, and his black plumage to the Passion, with which he will pay for the sins of all men.
In contrast, the main scene takes two-thirds of the plate. It depicts the Archangel St. Gabriel at the moment he transmits his message to the Virgin.
As in so many other works, the Virgin is in a domestic interior and, in this case, reading. When St. Gabriel arrives, she stops her activity for a moment. And as a servant of the Lord, she shows a gesture with which she assumes the mission to which she has been entrusted.
Fra Angelico resorts once again to medieval tradition to show us in a more explicit way the arrival of the Messiah.
He places a light source in which he draws the hands of God the Father in the upper left corner. From it comes a ray that descends to Mary. He places the dove behind in. This arrival is the symbol of the Holy Spirit, whose coming will make Mary conceive the Messiah.
The Messiah or Jesus is represented in the main spandrel of the lodge.
Scenes from the life of the Virgen are represented at the bottom of the altarpiece. This lower part is named predella. The correct reading of the scenes is from left to right.
The first one includes her birth and betrothal with St. Joseph. The following is the Visitation, that is, the moment in which the Virgin visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is pregnant with St. John the Baptist baby. The third is the Epiphany or Adoration of the Shepherds.
The fourth represents the presentation of Mary in the Temple. Finally, the last one is the Dormition of the Virgin.
As a reminder, the canonical Gospels make no reference to the birth and death of the Virgin. These facts are narrated in the apocryphal Gospels, written later.