Friday, 20 December 2013

Friday 20th December - The Annuciation

It's a bit late in the day, but I'm doing my bit to bring the Baby Jesus into Blogvent.  I know, a smidge of an oversight and everything, but here is the most astonishing work...

The Annunciation (1898) Henry Ossawa Tanner
Here we have a pretty pivotal moment in the whole Christmas story, when the Angel Gabriel turned up and told the Virgin Mary that she was 9 months away from a double Bank Holiday.

Ecce Ancilla Domini! D G Rossetti
There are many reasons why I love this image, not least because Mary appears to be in the process of a visit from the Eye of Sauron.  Traditionally in Annunciation images, the angel takes a rather nice human form, sometimes a bit androgynous but mostly looking like a nice chap.  There he is in Rossetti's take on the subject, waving his lily about and annunciation-ing.  I've never thought of him being a big glowing fire in the corner of the room, which is rather more terrifying, yet at the same time Mary looks curious.  She seems puzzled but ready for the responsibility, and actually like she appreciates the gravitas of the moment rather than being petrified.

The colours that Tanner use are warm and glowing, reflecting the Spirit in the room.  His use of light, everything lit by the glowing pillar, highlights the face of the Virgin and the sparsity of her belongings.  Like Rossetti's image, you get a sense of the space inhabited by the action, we know how big the room is that one of the pivotal moments of Christianity is happening by the behaviour of the light and shadows.

Tanner is a fascinating artist and not one I was overly familiar with before.  An African-American artist born in 1859, he spent much of his life in France to escape the racism of his homeland.  He was the first African-American artist to gain international acceptance, and his painting Daniel in the Lion's Den was accepted into the 1896 Salon.  Possibly his best known work is this one...

The Banjo Lesson (1893)
Painted in 1893 during a brief return to America, this lovely work shows a man teaching his grandson how to play the banjo.  Although deceptively simple, it raises questions about the perpetuating of racial stereotypes and traditions, the notions of Black American entertainment, taking the stereotype of the minstrel and changing it into something eternal and universal.  Grandparents pass on skills and knowledge as well as eye colour, and this painting could be showing us a man seeing himself as a child, learning the talent as well as passing it on.  Some art historians have suggested that the picture referred to Tanner's own move from the old world, his old life, to a new start in France.

Well, I need to wrap some presents and take some cold medicine as I fight off the plague my daughter is just shrugging off.  Thank the glowing pillar of fire in the corner of the room that school and work have ended for a fortnight.  Bring on Christmas!

See you tomorrow...


  1. Dear Kirsty
    What a fantastic painting. As you say, we are all used to seeing an angel with a human-ish appearance, so to see this is fascinating. It does look at bit like a ghost though - I don't think I'd be so calm and collected if this appeared in a corner of the room - more likely to run away screaming!
    Thank you for sharing this.
    Best wishes

  2. I loved this picture, and have to admit to not being familiar with this chap, but what a fascinating life. Thank you for your comments!

  3. Thank you for bring Mr Tanner to my attention. Artists I hadn't heard of, let alone paintings I hadn't heard of, are part of why I love reading your blog. Your sense of humour is another part. Thank you, and I hope you've begun to feel better.


  4. I'm just now catching up on a couple of blogs, and you just made me LOL with the Eye of Sauron bit.


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx