I’ve been over in the UK the past couple of months and just arrived back in NZ this morning. So, as I’ve been airborne for most of the past day and a bit, I felt it only apt that today’s advent offering should depict a winged creature. J.W. Waterhouse’s painting, The Annunciation, offers us a vision of Mary’s visitation by the angel Gabriel as told in the Second Testament book of Luke 1:26-38. Waterhouse has added some interesting details to this gospel tradition – Mary appears to have been spinning yarn before Gabriel appeared to her. There is also what looks like a Torah scroll on a stand to her left. Perhaps she was doing some scriptural study?
Moreover, dressed in a gorgeous deep lilac tunic with red trim, Mary also appears to be connected visually to the angelic form who stands before her. For, compared with more traditional depictions of angels in art, Gabriel is not swathed in white, but in various violet tones; even the wings are a lush indigo. And, unlike the angelic figure we read about in Luke, this divine messenger appears to be female. Perhaps Waterhouse wanted to suggest the possibility of a bonding between these two characters – a shared understanding of the news being imparted and the implications that it would bring to this young Jewish woman. Mary does look aghast at the news of her impending pregnancy, but the angel’s placating stance, her gift of white flowers, and her shared feminine identity (which is also accentuated by the women’s matching dress colours) allows Waterhouse to depict this dramatic scene as a visit by one friend to another, rather than a traumatic intrusion of the heavenly into Mary’s thus-far peaceful earthly existence.