Mario Bardi (b. 1922)
oil on canvas
Collection of Modern Religious Art, Inv. 24819

General Description

Mario Bardi, born in Palermo in 1922, chose simplicity over sophistication to paint this Annunciation. The whole scene reflects great familiarity using traditional motifs such as the angel, the sitting Madonna, and the lily. However, the realms of reality are clearly marked. The archangel Gabriel, filling with his presence the right half of the painting, is shown in diffuse and monochromatic tonality. He is the visitor from above, almost transparent but driven by supernatural dynamism. He comes to a standstill in front of the clear and concisely drawn mass of Mary’s person. In fact, he reaches her from behind, provoking Mary’s surprise and inquisitiveness. The upper part of her body is slightly twisted, the right hand slightly raised – both gestures translating a beginning of wavering or unease. But the whole figure remains compact and unshaken, the eyes are wide open but fearless, and the bouquet of flowers unbent and regal. The lily designates Mary’s virginity, whereas the other plant – possibly imaginary – suggests grapes or wheat ears, frequently symbols of fecundity and thus maternity. The outcome of the encounter with the heavenly messenger is known in advance: Mary will be both virgin and mother.

Chosen and Choosing

The intricately decorated pink chair and the massive blue cape represent a vigorous counterpoint to the eerie features of the angel. The Annunciation is a meeting of two worlds that are – by nature – different and opposed. It prepares a unity overcoming opposition but not difference. The result will be the Incarnation of the God-Man.

The question about Mary’s freedom in the event is frequently asked. Was she a simple and unwilling tool in the hands of the Almighty? Did she make up her mind and was her yes of free and generous consent? Religious art has dealt with these questions in its own ways. Here are two examples based on contrast and cultural variety, showing the difference of what some might call “chosen” and “choosing.”

The first example highlights the “chosen” aspect. The painting is by Dante Gabriele Rossetti, dated 1849-53. Posture, location, looks, and facial expression are permeated by holy fear, trembling, and hypnotic resignation. A highly symbolic painting where every object has a special meaning (the red stole, the blue curtain, the dove, and the lily), this pre-Raphaelite rendering of the Annunciation identifies Mary as the “chosen” one. Little in her bearing suggests a truly personal and willful reaction. Pre-Raphaelite art opts for a “sentimental poetic framework” where feminine beauty coincides with languid postures, ethereal beauty, and abstract sensuality.

Virginio Ciminaghi’s Annunciation (1967) is of different facture. The angel and Mary meet in “interactive tension.” Nothing suggests that she is the chosen one. The sharp bronze silhouettes of the two figures, their pointed noses, flying hair, and outstretched necks are reminiscent of harpies rather than holy persons. However, here too, the outcome is known in advance. Mary takes this risk not as heroic superwoman but as an ordinary woman who is receptive to God’s calling. She enters into a seemingly antagonistic dialogue with the angel because she is aware of the consequences of her choice: social rejection or even death by stoning. But she still chooses to say yes.

For more information:

Consult the exhibit catalog: The Mother of God: Art Celebrates Mary, pp. 140-141.

Consult also the Dictionary of Mary,  pp. 25-30.

The Mary Page:   and

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