oil on canvas
Collection of Modern Religious Art, Inv. 24819
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
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
Consult also the
Dictionary of Mary, pp.
The Mary Page: