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Simone Martini, Annunciation, 1333, tempera on panel, 72 1/2 x 82 5/8" or 184 x 210 cm. (Uffizi, Florence) Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.
Video transcript
(music) Male: One of the great masters of the 14th century was Simone Martini and the Annunciation is his most famous painting. Female: This is the moment when the angel, Gabriel, has come to announce to Mary that she will conceive the Christ child. Male: That announcement is literally taking place. Female: We can see the angel's announcemnet to Mary quite literally coming out of his mouth, left to right. Male: As if is it was a speech bubble. Female: In Latin, "Hail, Mary, full of grace, "blessed art thou among women." Male: It is the most elegant and beautiful painting. It makes so much sense that this was a student of Duccio in the Sienese style. We see that kind of attention to decorative pattern and detail and subtle color and a kind of elegance. Look, for example, at Gabriel's wings and the fluidity and delicacy there, or especially of the drape that whips around as if he's just landed. Female: It's really like the artist is just enjoying those beautiful sinuous lines, which I think of as also very characteristic of the Sienese style. In the middle of this very shallow space that Simone Martini has created, we see a vase with lilies, which are symbols of Mary's virginity. We do have a bit of a space here, but we still have that large gold expanse behind the figures and Mary, who's very thin and elongated. Male: In addition to the vase of lilies, which is a standard symbol in the Annunciation, we see Gabriel holding a branch of olive leaves, which is a symbol of Christ, of the coming of the Prince of Peace. And, of course, an olive branch is a traditional symbol that refers back to the story of Noah and the dove returning with an olive branch, speaking of the kind of covenant of peace with God. Female: We also see in the triangular space above and between Mary and the angel Gabriel, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove surrounded by seraphim, by angels, and rays of golden light that emerge from that haloed dove and move toward Mary. Male: They actually emerge from the beak, which is open, of the dove as if the Holy Spirit is speaking this grace, speaking this divinity. It echoes, of course, the fact that Gabriel the archangel, is also speaking to Mary. Female: Mary is turning away. If you look at it, the line from the dove to Mary and from the angel's words to Mary form two sides of a triangle that meet at Mary, and that she, with her body and her face, kind of pulls away from being the center of this attention. Male: So this is modesty that is represented; that Mary is a slightly unwilling vessel for God. She's been interrupted. You can see her fingers still holding a place in the Bible which she has been piously reading as Gabriel so evidently has just arrived. Female: We have a kind of sense of time unfolding here, that Mary is about to, but has not yet said, "Behold the handmaiden of the Lord." She hasn't yet accepted her destiny as the mother of God. Male: This is a really interesting issue then, because there is the momentary. But at the same time, the artist is creating a perfect moment that is absolute and eternal. How do you imbue a painting both with the full dignity and grace of the spiritual moment and at the same moment speak to that human experience? Female: I think it was very important to be able to imagine what this moment was like. The sense that it has of the momentary and Mary's emotional reaction helps us to imagine what this moment must have felt like for her. Male: A couple cautions about this painting. The frame, which is wildly elaborate, is not original. In fact, it's a 19th century. That is it's a much more modern representation of the kind of frame that might have originally been around it, but I don't think we know what that was. In addition, the two saints that flank the main panel would probably not have been immediately adjacent to it. So just a couple of cautions in terms of how this painting has changed over time. Female: Always a good thing to remember when you're in a museum looking at works of art that are 800 years old. (music)