Because today is Fig Monday/Monday of Holy Week, the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord has been moved this year to the Monday after the Easter Octave/Divine Mercy Sunday. Nevertheless, this article by Richard Cork in The Wall Street Journal about Jan van Eyck's painting of the Annunciation seems worthy of mention today:
Nothing in the Bible story is more astounding than the pivotal instant when, quite suddenly, the Virgin Mary receives an unexpected visitor. Brandishing a resplendent pair of wings, the Angel Gabriel descends from heaven and gives the young woman some shocking news: She will conceive and give birth to Jesus, the Son of God.
Most Renaissance painters who tackled this popular subject ensured that a sizable gap divorces Mary from Gabriel. But when Jan van Eyck took up the challenge, he broke through to a radical alternative. Based in Bruges as court painter to Philip the Good, the powerful Duke of Burgundy, van Eyck was renowned as a pioneer of naturalism in the new medium of oil paint. And in a tall, narrow painting made about 1435, executed with mesmerizing precision and a wealth of meanings, he removes the setting from the Virgin's home. Instead, "The Annunciation" now occurs in a richly detailed church. By breaking away from the domestic context favored in so many other treatments of the subject, van Eyck creates an image packed with coded messages about the triumph of the new faith over the old scriptures.
At first, our eyes are caught up in the intensity of the encounter between Angel and Virgin. In this thin panel, we grow conscious of how very close these figures are to one another. Although the ecclesiastical setting could hardly be more formal, their encounter feels like a private moment, no doubt reflecting van Eyck's own awareness that Mary is now being impregnated with the seed of the Christ child. Rays of golden light shoot down from an upper window, bearing the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. One ray descends directly onto the crown of the Virgin's head, piercing her so that Jesus can be conceived.