Saturday, 9 December 2017

Saturday 9th December: The Annunciation

Tomorrow we will have made it into double figures and so I will try and make this the last annunciation because we have rather a lot more of the Virgin Mary to get through in the next 15 days, but nevertheless we have to have this picture because it is rather gorgeous...

The Annunciation (1857-8) Arthur Hughes
Who doesn't love a bit of Arthur Hughes (1832-1915)?  Sure, he has some ropey days but when he is 'on fleek' (as I believe the young people used to say) his work is sublime and often quite purple-y.  So here we have Mary, cowering by a pillar while a golden, glowing angel bestows the ace news whilst hovering in a flowerbed.  Again, we have a bit of wardrobe synergy going on, with both figures sharing a palette of blues and purples but then this is a Hughes painting and so I begin to suspect he bought a job lot of those colours, what with the regularity they appear in his works.  In her hand the Virgin carries wool, from all that spinning and weaving we now know she does.

April Love (1855-6)
Seems in Hughes' art, you can't move for a woman in both an emotional crisis and a purple frock.  Maybe one is emblematic of the other?  Talking of emblems, Hughes included a bit of flower language into his annunciation with not only the obligatory lilies, but also a sneaky pot of irises, hinting at warning and danger.  The Victorians would have been completely au fait with reading extra layers of meaning in pictures via the foliage, for example the ivy in April Love symbolising longevity and clinging on, and the scattered petals as a broken love affair.

The Nativity (1857-8)
Hughes bookended the Virgin's story from annunciation to nativity, but although his annunciation is quite traditional, his nativity is striking, crammed into a small intimate space.  The feathers of the angels (purple, naturally) fan out in the straw and a kneeling Mary swaddles a tiny Son of God.  The paintings both have gothic-arch frames, echoing church architecture, but The Nativity makes it seem like you are looking into a cramped room rather than looking out into a garden.  The difference in Mary between the two paintings is marked - in the beginning she is hesitant, shy and unsure, but by the end she is posed and accepting, just getting on with the job.  I find it slightly odd how massive she is in comparison to Jesus, who you'd think would be the star of the show (no pun intended) but by having companion pieces, Mary is the narrative, her journey is the point and the focus.  She moves from the shadows of the first picture to the centre of the second and there is no-one else (human-wise) in either, just Mary and the heavenly creatures, one of whom she entrusts to hold the baby while she swaddles.  It makes a change to see Mary as the focus but after all she did do all the work.  

See you tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. I'd never seen the nativity before and it is stunning! And I love your analysis of it! Yes, this poor young girl DID do all the work, and kept doing it even after her 'baby boy' was cruelly put to death...


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