ANNUNCIATION iconography

ANNUNCIATION iconography Scenes of the annunciation appeared in the Christian iconographical repertoire in the mid-3rd c. at a time when theological reflection on the mystery of the incarnation was particularly active in the church of Rome E. Dal Covolo, Tematiche cristologiche nell’et  dei Severi: Bessarione 6 1988 71-87; the artistic depictions were almost a figurative translation of the larger theological discussion. Attributed to that date is the pictorial decoration of a cubicle of one of the oldest nuclei of the catacomb of Priscilla on the Via Salaria, now more accessible because of recent restorations Nestori, 24 n. 15; B. Mazzei, Il cubicolo dell’Annunciazione nelle catacombe di Priscilla. Nuove osservazioni alla luce dei recenti restauri, in RivAC 75 1999 233-280. At the center of the vault is the image of the Virgin seated on a throne; at her right hand with his arm extended to her stands the archangel Gabriel, without wings according to the earliest angelic iconography. A similar scene reappears in two other later catacomb frescoes, one from the first decades of the 4th c. in the catacomb of Via Dino Compagni Ferrua, Via Latina, 42, pl. III, also recently restored making the details more discernible, and the other, almost contemporary, in the catacomb of Sts. Marcellinus and Peter on the Via Labicana Nestori, 50 17. With these two pictures, however, unlike that of Priscilla, the depiction is inserted in cyclically conceived decorative contexts, the first with Marian themes and the second christological. In the former, in fact, it is the insertion of the scenes into a Marian cycle in the anonymous hypogeum of Via Dino Compagni a cycle that includes a depiction of the adoration of the magi and probably one of the testing of the bitter waters, as a rereading of the frescoes after restorations suggests that recommends its interpretation as a scene of the annunciation and not simply a scene of prophecy. All three cases lack any material descriptive element: the scene is extremely synthetic, as is for that matter the description of the episode in Luke’s gospel 1:26-38, the only NT source that refers to it. These are the only examples of the annunciation in the iconographic repertoire of cemetery painting. In the early 5th c. a scene of the annunciation appears in the decoration of a sarcophagus at Ravenna called the sarcophagus of Elisha the prophet or the Pignatta sarcophagus P. Testini, Su una discussa figurazione del sarcofago detto del profeta Eliseo o Pignatta, in FR 113-114 1977 321-327, fig. 2; unlike the images painted in the catacombs, the scene is replete with details that contribute to its interpretation. Mary is seated, spinning purple cloth that she draws from a wicker basket at her feet. Beside her is the angel winged, in one of the earliest examples in Western iconography of this feature. The depiction is inspired by the account of the annunciation given in the apocryphal gospels of the infancy, and esp. the Protevangelium of James XI,1-3, a Greek text perhaps of Coptic origin, ca. 200. The apocryphal narrations of the Protevangelium of James, as later those of the gospel of Pseudo-Matthew IX,2 and the Armenian gospel of the infancy V,3, describe Mary in her house at the moment of the angel’s annunciation, intent on spinning purple for the temple. For the annunciation, as with other scenes of the cycle of the infantia Salvatoris, because of the conciseness of the canonical text, the artists almost always used details from the apocyrphal gospels, which circulated widely beginning esp. from the 4th c. see J.E. Weis-Liebersdorf, Christus und Apostelbilder. Einfluss der Apokryphen auf die ¤ltesten Kunsttypen, Freiburg im Br. 1902; F. Bisconti, Letteratura patristica ed iconografia paleocristiana, in Complementi interdisciplinari di patrologia, ed. A. Quacquarelli, Rome 1989, 405ff.; E. Jastrzebowska, Bild und Wort: Das Marienleben und Kindheit Jesu in der christlichen Kunst vom 4. bis 8. Jh. und ihre apokryphen Quellen, Warsaw 1992. Their influence was even felt in the mosaic decoration of the triumphal arch of the basilica of S. Maria Maggiore at Rome, a votive construction promised by Pope Sixtus III 432440. In that mosaic Mary, dressed in garments of gold and arrayed with jewels like a basilissa queen, sits before a building the temple or Joseph’s house? intent on spinning purple, surrounded by a guard of four angels, three standing beside her and one flying and pointing out a dove the Holy Spirit who descends from heaven C. Cecchelli, I mosaici della basilica di S. Maria Maggiore, Turin 1956, pls. XLIX-LII. The same apocryphal sources also inspired, among others, the scene depicted in the mosaic of the Euphrasian basilica of Parentium, ca. mid-6th c., in which the annunciation seems to take place in front of a basilica that of Nazareth, built over the site of Mary’s house? Wellen, Theotokos, pl. 6c, and that on the reredos panel of the ivory cathedra of Maximian at Ravenna from the time of Justinian: in this depiction Mary is shown against the background of a tympanic building, perhaps her house, seated on a high wicker seat with footrest, spindles in hand and a basket of wool at her feet; before her, in an attitude of adlocutio, is the announcing angel with a rod in his left hand, symbol of his authority C. Cecchelli, La cattedra di Massimiano ed altri avorii romano-orientali, Rome 1936, 151-154, pl. XXII. Between the 5th and 6th c. the episode of the annunciation to Mary intent on spinning purple for the temple appears among the frescoes of Bawit in Egypt G. Roquet, La rception de l’image et du texte   motifs d’apocryphes dans les chrtients d’Egypte et de Nubie: Apocrypha 2 1991 181-215 and, in more concise forms, in a long series of works of ivory linked to Eastern culture: including the Etschmiadzin gospelbook W.F. Volbach, Elfenbeinarbeiten der Sp¤tantike und des fr¼hen Mittelalters, Mainz 1976, n. 142, pl. 75, the so-called Diptych of St. Lupicinus Volbach, op. cit., n. 145, pl. 77, the Berlin Pyx Volbach, op. cit., n. 174, pl. 88 and that of Cleveland Volbach, op. cit., n. 184, pl. 92, all datable to the 6th c. The same iconographic scene also appears in some jewelry, including a medallion of the State Museum of Berlin A. Grabar, Christian Iconography. A Study of its Origin, Princeton 1961, fig. 247 and the two gold amulets, found at Adana, of the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul Grabar, Christian Iconography, fig. 248; in small works of metallurgy, such as some small ampoules, datable to ca. mid-6th c., from Bobbio and Monza A. Grabar, Ampoules de Terre Sainte Monza, Bobbio, Paris 1958, pls. 5, 6, 48, 49, 50, 51, and two 7th-c. Syro-Palestinian bronze censors A. St. Clair, in Age of Spirituality, ed. K. Weitzmann, New York 1979, nn. 563, 564; and in woven decoration, as a fragment of silk at the Sacred Vatican Museum Grabar, Christian Iconography, fig. 249. The theme of the annunciation also frequently appears among scenes depicted in illustrated codices: some of the oldest examples are in the Rabbula gospel-book Cod. Syriac 56 in the Laurentian Library at Florence, dated 586 H.L. Kessler, Rabula Gospel, in Age of Spirituality, 495ff. The apocryphal theme of the annunciation to Mary intent on spinning purple was certainly more common in the East; it still appears in the West in the 7th-8th c., included with other episodes from the life of the Virgin in the frescoes of S. Maria foris portas, at Castelseprio Varese K. Weitzmann, The Fresco Cycle of S. Maria di Castelseprio, Princeton 1951, probably done by Egyptians or Syro-Palestinians, and among those of the Church of S. Maria Antiqua at Rome, where the theme of the annunciation appears in the decoration of the apse on the walls of the so-called palimpsest, in a layer dated between the last decades of the 6th or first decades of the 7th c. M. Andaloro, in G. Matthiae, Pittura romana del Medioevo, Rome 1987, 249-250, and on a pillar on which two depictions of the annunciation, perhaps of the same iconographic scheme, succeeded one another between the 7th and early 8th c. Matthiae, Pittura romana del Medioevo, 100-102. The Protevangelium of James XI,1-3, PseudoMatthew IX,1-2 and the Armenian Gospel of the Infancy V,1-8 also have an annunciation at a well where Mary has gone to draw water; though rare, there are also depictions of this episode Bisconti, Letteratura patristica ed iconografia paleocristiana, 406. It is perhaps already present but the interpretation of the scene is very uncertain in the decoration of the cover of the mid-4th-c. sarcophagus of Adelphia, found in the cemetery of St. John at Syracuse, in which the well is personified by a bearded head S.L. Agnello, Il sarcofago di Adelfia, Vatican City 1956, fig. 27; in the early 5th c. it appears in a small ivory plaque of the Victoria and Albert Museum of London Volbach, op. cit., n. 118, pl. 62, then in an ivory diptych of the Treasury of the Duomo of Milan, second half 5th c. Volbach, op. cit., n. 119, pl. 63 and in a terracotta tondo in the Monza Treasury, mid-6th c. Grabar, Ampoules de Terre Sainte, pl. 31. DACL 1, 2255ff.; G. Millet, Recherches sur l’iconographie de l’Evangile, Paris 1916, 67ff.; G.A. Wellen, Theotokos. Eine ikonographische Abhandlung ¼ber das Gottesmutterbild in fr¼hchristlicher Zeit, Utrecht-Antwerpen 1961, 37ff.; J.H. Emminghauus, s.v. Verk¼ndingung an Maria: LCI IV 1972, cols. 422-437; A. Ghidoli, s.v. Annunciazione, in Enciclopedia dell’arte medievale, II, Rome 1991, 40-46; F.P. Massara, TIP 111-113.
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