Perhaps you, like I, have looked upon many artistic depictions of biblical scenes and have been left wanting. Jesus’s hair is way too long and pretty, everyone’s garments are far too pink and blue, the buildings and courtyards are inordinately clean, etc., etc. I’ve written on this subject before. Loving beauty and truth, I want to be both aesthetically pleased and spiritually impacted. Good religious art should cause me to be powerfully moved by the beauty and meaning of the piece, powerfully taken back to the moment depicted. In other words, I want to be spiritually transported by the aesthetic image to feel myself present at a moment when Heaven touched Earth.
And so much art just doesn’t get that done for me.
There are exceptions, of course, and I have reflected on them from time to time in this blog. One exceptional work of art has recently been purchased by me (in the form of a print bought through AllPosters.com) to hang on my bedroom wall. (My awesome parents are helping me to mount and secure it as I write this. So many blessings for which to be thankful!)
It’s a depiction of the Annunciation by Henry O. Tanner.
Before I show it to you, if you aren’t familiar with it already, a little on the traditional depictions of the Annunciation. I do appreciate them, typically with symbolic touches, usually with the winged angel kneeling before the Virgin Mary, who looks humble, pious, and open to what she is hearing. The work of Fra Angelico comes to mind:
(Check out a wonderfully informative video on this work and other frescoes by clicking HERE.)
But, the angel, Gabriel, is as usual, lavishly and heavily garbed and Mary is so very calm and serene. And, for some reason, this doesn’t strike my heart. In Fra Angelico’s work, the pair look like they are in some Italian portico, in others,, young Mary has a greatly receding hairline. I am willing to look beyond the contemporary “fashion” details that an artist will add in keeping with his time – if, and only if, I am taken in by a look in the face, a gesture of a hand, a radiant light…. Too often, however, details not contemporary to Scripture get in the way of the heart of the matter. And, so, the works don’t find their way to my heart.
The 1898 work by Henry Ossawa Tanner is the exception. In it, Mary is real, vibrant in her attentiveness, in what seems a lively curiosity, as well as serenely open and willing. She is on the edge of something, almost vibrating, yet perfectly still. The Angel Gabriel is, well… alive, aflame, pure light, marvelously and wondrously a powerful messenger from God. Now, that is an angel!
Without further ado, then, I present to you the moment when the Angel Gabriel appeared before the Virgin Mary and told her that she was to conceive the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit…
This man-made painting of the moment when the Divine pierced the temporal veil and awaited a young woman’s full acceptance and embrace of faith, embrace of God’s salvation… Well, this work of art does find my heart, deep within, striking the chord of truth and beauty that only a sublime and subtle glimpse of the Divine can.
I say with Mary, Yes.
© 2017 Christina Chase
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.