The Annunciation, was the moment in the bible where Virgin Mary finds out from Archangel Gabriel, that she will be the mother of God’s son, Jesus. This image of the Annunciation was a popular inspiration for artist through Gothic and Renaissance period. A period that that in large was capitalization on Catholicism. A famous interpretation of The Annunciation comes artist, Jean Pucelle, and is titled Two-Page Opening with The Kiss of Judas and the Annunciation from the Hours of Jeanne D’Evreux (Figure 11-14 p. 275).
Pucelle’s Annunciation appeared in the Book of Hours the King Charles gave to wife Queen Jeanne d’Evreux. The two pages of the Book of Hours shown in Figure 11-14 shows two contrasting stories one of happiness, the Annunciation, and the other of sadness, the arrest of Christ. The Annunciation occurs on the right page. In this picture archangel Gabriel approaches Mary under a door way that’s is connect to a room whose depth ventures away from the viewer. The structure and style of the house is contemporary for that time period, and the interior of the house lacks sufficient decor.
The only furniture is a small vase in the back corner of the room, and what appears to be a small table behind Mary. The ceiling however has a crawl space door that seems to leads to a disproportional sized attic, compared to the size of Mary’s figure. This theme of disproportion resonates with the whole house not just the attic, as Mary takes up a majority of the space, and the proportions of everything around her are not realistic. The exterior of the house contains a gothic style vaulting, that makes up the door way in which Gabriel is kneeling in.
Again, the vault itself also is small in comparison to Gabriel’s wings, that seem to just barely fit into the space. Above the vault there’s a short upper floor that’s assumingly the attic. On the outside of this upper level there are five angels, each in their own window/compartment on the panel, and they’re all facing and looking down at Mary from above. When it comes to the composition of his Annunciation, Pucelle used a technique called grisaille. Grisaille is when an artist paints exclusively using shades of gray.
However, Pucelle used grisaille and added a sparse amount of color to his work. For example, for the halo over Mary’s head, Pucelle used a bright red for empathizes. Other used of color occur on the blue roof, purple hues on the wings of Gabriel, and the red foreground behind the angels on the panel. Pucelle like many fifteenth century artist, designed this piece around one person’s view. Since King Charles IV, wanted this book to made for his wife, and Pucelle was given the task to personalize the Books of Hours for the Queen.
Below the scene of the Annunciation, Pucelle painted Queen Jeanne in the initial of the “D” the appears at the beginning of the script; the Queen is also kneeling with the Book of Hours in her hands. Furthermore, surrounding the Annunciation scene there are angels, and another gray scene on the bottom of the page that shows three midwives aiding Mary in the birth of Christ. As mention before the Annunciation is not the image spread on these two pages. On the left-hand page, Pucelle painted a juxtaposition to the Annunciation, which is the arrest of Christ.
In the picture, Jesus is being betrayed by Judas Iscariot, by surrounding him to soldiers that have come to bring him to where he will eventually die. This image its entirely done with grisaille, the only color used is the red script, as to add to the sorrow of the image and to draw attention to the message of the passage. When comparing Pucelle’s interpretation of the Annunciation, to the actual text in the Old and New Testaments Luke 1, the viewer can see many striking resemblances. Line 26 of the text talks about how Gabriel showed up at Mary’s after the sixth month.
When you look at Figure 11-4, there are 5 angels in the panel on the exterior of the house, each angel could represent the five months prior to the Annunciation, and Gabriel being the angel that represents the sixth month. For lines 28-31 Gabriel is telling Mary she will give birth to Jesus, and she is overcome by shock. Pucelle portrays this by the position of Gabriel. Gabriel is knelt on one knee with a hand raised up towards Mary, as if he is telling her something of importance. Mary posture and focused facial expression confirms there is a verbal exchange occurring.
Next to the Annunciation in Pucelle’s work there’s an image of a man presuming father David sitting in a throne. This illustration corresponds to lines 32 and 33 that discuss the greatest that will come from God’s son. The angels looking down on Mary and the door on the ceiling can allude to “the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee” that is spoken about in the text for line 35. Further comparisons of Pucelle’s work can be when analyzing James Hall’s Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art.
Hall mentions in his article that he three essential elements found in most portraits of the Annunciation are The Virgin, the angel, and the dove of the Holy Spirit. While, Pucelle included The Virgin and the angel, he did not include the dove. Hall’s article also mentions the symbols of the flower in the vase. Looking at Pucelle’s interpretation he included a vase in the back-left corner, a symbol of Mary’s purity, as Hall explains. The closed book Mary is holding in Figure 11-4 is a reference to Isiah (29:11-12), which is a passage that talks about being God’s chosen one and servant, and how Mary should not be afraid but fully accepting of her task.
Pucelle follows the tradition of having archangel Gabriel dressed in white, and kneeling towards Mary with scroll in his hand instead of a flower or scepter. When looking at the setting and the exterior of Mary’s house, it is in Gothic style architecture with the pointed arches. James Hall’s dissection of symbols and subjects helps to aid in the comparing and contrasting of Pucelle’s work and that of Robert Campin. Robert Campin painted his scene of Annunciation in the 19th century. The time difference between the two-artist’s works are quite apparent in the styles each artist used.
Pucelle like mention before used grisaille, and was very selective in using color, using it to empathizes Mary’s halo and draw attention to the angels looking down at Mary. Campin on the other used only color. However, like Pucelle, Campin used particularly bright colors like pink to focus the viewers eye on Mary, and that further evident by the texture of Mary’s dress. Campin painted Gabriel’s wings a bright yellow which contrast with the traditional white wings that Pucelle chose. When it comes to the elements, the dimensions and proportions of the two pieces also carry their differences.
Pucelle painted Mary’s house in an awkward dimension, the room seems very small and shallow in comparison to the figures of Mary and Gabriel. Campin shares this same awkwardness as dimension is lost when looking at the center table and the figures. Unlike Pucelle though, Campin layout of the room is more proportional to an extent. Looking Pucelle’s Gabriel only one of his wings are visible, and in Campin’s Gabriel’s wings are open and both wings are clearly distinguishable. Examining the postures of Gabriel in both piece, Gabriel is kneeling or in the process of getting on a knee toward Mary.
Mary’s posture in both although vastly different; as Mary is standing in Pucelle’s but in Campin’s she’s sitting, the two images position Mary’s in a semi curve. Pucelle’s Mary forms a “S” shape and in Campin’s Mary is sitting a position that forms a “C” shape. Given their similarities and differences in their use of the formal elements, the two artists interpretations of the story again share unisons and individuality. Both pieces contain Gabriel facing Mary in kneeled position. However, in Campin’s image Gabriel has just entered the house, and Mary has not noticed his presence as she is looking down.
In Pucelle’s image Mary is standing and aware of Gabriel’s presence, and of the message he’s delivering. The two scenes are also different in that Campin used more of the symbols mentioned in James Hall’s article, and Pucelle used the actual text of the Annunciation more so than Campin did. For example, with the symbols the flower in the vase is much more noticeable in Campin’s work, whereas in Pucelle’s the vase blends into the background and take a close look to find. The Mary in Campin is also reading a book of Isiah’s prophecy, in Pucelle’s work Mary is holding the book closed.
Pucelle included more guidance from the actual text of Luke1: 26-38 than Campin. Campin did not include as many angels or make them as obvious than Pucelle. The angels alluded to line 35 of the text where it says “the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. ” The angels were sent by God to watch over Mary, and Pucelle thought that was of more importance than Campin did in his work. Both Pucelle and Campin created beautiful and detailed depictions of the Annunciation, but looking at them as a young adult in the 21st century there are few things I would change.
In my version of the Annunciation the first thing I would change is the dressing of Mary and of Gabriel. For Mary, she would be wearing a long flowy light blue dress that is more fitting than the cloth she is draped in Pucelle’s work. For Gabriel, I would also dress him in more fitted clothing. Another element I would change is the architecture of the house. In Pucelle’s and Campin they designed the architecture in their paintings to fit their time periods.
So, for my image the house would be modernized to what houses in 2016 look like, and that would include omitting the arches and vaulting used in older pieces. For most part I think Pucelle and Campin gave justice to the story of the Annunciation, and therefore I would not change the iconology they used in their painting, except maybe include a few more details. All in all, the images served the viewers of today and of the past well, and show cased the artistic techniques and ideology of the Gothic and Renaissances time period.