Some collect Pez dispensers. Some collect autographed baseballs (hello there, Geddy Lee), or snow globes. Some, from the dark side, collect pig figurines. Me, I collect “expert” headlines — from this morning’s Globe: “Mass murders stun Alberta’s experts” — and, wait for it, Annunciations.
You know…the Annunciation, that precise, biblical moment when the angel Gabriel swoops in on her wings and gives Mary the news that she has been chosen to give birth to the son of God. Ho hum. Just another day in Nazareth.
During the late Middle Ages and the glorious Renassiance, the Annunciation was an exceedingly popular subject for any painter worth his smock. (Today, there are selfies.) There is a tension in this extraordinary happening that I really like. Just the two of them, sharing a moment like no other. It’s wide open to the artist how to set up the clutter-free scene, and so many different ways to depict the angel and the Virgin, whose expression can range from total shock (“What will I tell Joseph?”), through reluctance, to a saintly acceptance. I also like the fact that Mary is often shown reading a book.
Rare is the old church in Europe that doesn’t have at least one Annunciation to its credit, and, of course, they are chock a block in the great art galleries of the world. I have scores of postcard reproductions in my collection and many, many photos. While it’s hard to surpass the famous Annunciation paintings of Leonardo da Vinci and Fra Angelico, one often finds examples tucked away in obscure corners of obscure churches by obscure, unknown artists that are just as affecting.
Last week, I came across an unexpected plethora of Annunciations. With half an hour to kill after taking in the enthralling Van Gogh to Kandinsky exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, I opted for a bit of late browsing amid the Museum’s modest Middle Ages collection. And there, much to my delight, were not one, not two, not three, but four (!) Annunciations. None by artists anyone has ever heard of. But, like almost all Annunciations, they are heartfelt. I snapped away, of course. And, just for fun, here they are, he announced, self-indulgently. Maybe you’ll get hooked, too.