fbpx
Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi by Fra Angelico

Fra Angelico, Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi (detail)
Fra Angelico, Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi (detail), c. 1431-2. Museo di San Marco, Florence, Italy. Photo via the-athenaeum.org.

Painting of the Week

Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi by Fra Angelico

Our Christmas week Painting of the Week is Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi (c. 1431-2) by Fra Angelico, a panel painting that includes two scenes closely related to the story of Christmas.

Fra Angelico (born Guido di Pietro, c. 1395-1455) was a Dominican monk from Florence, Italy. His paintings mix the medieval Gothic and early Renaissance styles to create elegant and beautiful religious scenes. He is best known and appreciated for his lovely angels.

Fra Angelico, Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi
Fra Angelico, Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi, c. 1431-2. Museo di San Marco, Florence, Italy. Photo via the-athenaeum.org.

Although this panel looks at first like an altarpiece, it is actually a reliquary (container for religious relics). Fra Angelico made a total of four reliquary panels like this for the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. All four – three have been identified pretty firmly and the fourth tentatively – depict scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary.

Fra Angelico, Annunciation detail
Fra Angelico, Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi (detail), c. 1431-2. Museo di San Marco, Florence, Italy. Photo via the-athenuaeum.org.

The upper scene is the Annunciation, the moment where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she would be the mother of God. This event is celebrated by the church on March 25th (nine months before Christmas). It’s a very common scene in European religious painting, and Fra Angelico himself painted it many times. His versions always include a kneeling Gabriel on the left and a pious-looking Mary seated on the right with her arms folded across her chest. The monochrome figure with a gilt halo at the very top of the composition is probably God the Father, sending down the rays of the Holy Spirit.

Fra Angelico, Adoration of the Magi detail
Fra Angelico, Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi (detail), c. 1431-2. Museo di San Marco, Florence, Italy. Photo via the-athenaeum.org.

The lower scene depicts the Adoration of the Magi, in which three wise men (magi) or kings visited the newborn Jesus Christ to worship him and give him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This event is celebrated on January 6th during the Epiphany, which is an important event in many countries. It is also commemorated in the popular Christmas carol “We Three Kings”. In this version, the Virgin Mary sits inside the manger with baby Jesus on her knee and Joseph standing behind her. The magi are easy to recognize because of their crowns. One has placed his crown on the ground as he kneels at the Virgin’s feet, while the other two stand further back in prayer. A small crowd of other figures on the right have also come to see the baby Jesus.

Fra Angelico, predella detail
Fra Angelico, Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi (detail), c. 1431-2. Museo di San Marco, Florence, Italy. Photo via the-athenaeum.org.

Ten female saints, each identifiable through small name labels below their images, appear on the predella (lower ledge) of the reliquary panel. The Virgin and Child appear in the center.

One of the reliquary’s most impressive features is its elaborate wooden frame elaborately carved into a Gothic pointed arch with twisted columns, stylized vegetation, and quatrefoil (four-lobed) decorations. The relics it once contained were probably housed somewhere within this frame.

Enjoy some more Christmas-related art by Fra Angelico and others here and here.

Sources:
-Kanter, Laurence B. et al. Painting and Illumination in Early Renaissance Florence 1300-1450. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994. p. 342-345. Available online through MetPublications.
-Kanter, Laurence & Pia Palladino. Fra Angelico. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005. p. 148-150. Available online through MetPublications.
-Kiely, Alexandra. “‘Pictor Angelicus’: Fran Angelico the Angelic Painter“. A Scholarly Skater. December 12, 2019.

Alexandra believes that enjoying the art of the past is the closest she can get to time travel, only much safer. When she’s not being an art historian, she can usually be found ice skating and dancing. Visit her at ascholarlyskater.com.

Comments

More in Painting of the Week

  • Ancient Greece

    Painting of the Week: Leonidas at Thermopylae by Jacques-Louis David

    By

    Whether you are within an academic environment or at a coffee shop, when the term ‘Neoclassicism’ and its huge influence on the visual arts arise, you are likely to hear the name Jacques-Louis David many times. David was not only the painter who developed an epochal...

  • 20th century

    Painting of the Week: Valentin Serov, Princess Olga Orlova

    By

    Late Tsarist Russia evokes images of great social inequality in respect of health, wealth, and happiness. In addition, it evokes images of extreme luxury, smothered in expensive fabrics and furs and layered in diamonds and pearls. Valentin Serov captured this glittering world through his evocative portraits...

  • Artists' Stories

    The Story of Vincent van Gogh’s Bedroom and Its Three Versions

    By

    The Bedroom(s) are among the most famous paintings of Vincent van Gogh. Why the plural? There are three similar paintings of the same title. All three versions are described in his letters, easily discernible from one another by the pictures on the wall to the right. The first,...

  • 20th century

    The Mysterious Road From Edvard Munch’s The Scream

    By

    The Scream by Edvard Munch is one of the most famous paintings in the world. It’s pretty obvious why – its expression and the way the pain and the anxiety of the man are depicted is universal for all human beings. We have all – at...

  • dailyart

    Painting of the Week: Saint George and the Dragon

    By

    There is a skirmish between the hero and the villain. Fabrics whip about, horse hoofs trample, and a dying scream erupts as Saint George slaughters the Dragon. The Christian saint kills the horrible creature as an act of religious zeal and civilization overcoming anarchy. Since the...

To Top