I checked out a book from the library a couple weeks ago, in anticipation of Advent. Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. It’s a great collection. One of my classmates, Jessica, showed it to me last year.
But as I opened it when I returned home, a note fell out. It said, “Ecce Ancilla Domini (The Annunciation), 1849, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Tate Gallery London.”
I’d never heard of this work of art before, and considering it mentioned the Annunciation it seemed related and coincidental enough to count for a day of Advent reflection. So I looked it up.
Take some time to observe this painting.
What strikes you about Mary here? Most icons and art depicting the Annunciation show Mary accepting her task with serenity and grace, looking quite holy and prepared. Back in the day, Rossetti’s Ecce Ancilla Domini (“Behold! The Handmaid of the Lord”) was somewhat controversial because of the way it depicts Mary as a frightened girl, cowering in the corner of her room. Here, Rossetti reveals to us another side of Mary, and it makes us think about how we might react were we in her shoes. Would we freak out? Would we be overwhelmed by what God was asking of us? Would it be so wrong to freak out?
When the divine begins to commune with the human, that’s drama. Incarnation definitely makes for good drama. And I don’t think Rossetti is being careless or irreverent in this piece. Many of the traditional elements present in icons of the Annunciation are also present here, such as Gabriel’s feet in active, messenger-like stance, and the dove near Mary’s head. This is another liturgical piece to ponder as we continue in this season of Advent, waiting on the Lord to come. Are we ready?
Can we even be ready?
Really interesting post. I like your definition of drama as the divine communing with the human. Another problem people had with this painting was that it showed Mary as a ‘common’, normal person in humble surroundings. People were used to idealised portraits of Mary in beautiful, rich surroundings as in Renaissance Annunciations…
Guess I should get this updated and moved over to the new website, Josh: https://spu.edu/depts/library/general_reference/bibliographies/christmas_meditations.htm. Watch for the light is down near the bottom.
Nice! I’ll have to check this out. Thanks, Steve.