Continuing our journey of discovering Artinside Museum’s augmented reality masterpieces. Today, we step into the fourth Pavilion dedicated to the theme of “Religious Art” just in time for the approaching holiday season.
Artists from all eras have painted sacred themes, interpreting them through their sensibilities, faith, and, most importantly, the historical and cultural context in which they lived. Among the most frequently depicted iconographic subjects are stories from the Bible, ranging from the Old Testament with its accounts of human life, the origins, and the history of the people of Israel, to the New Testament, centered on the life of Jesus.
Our journey through the Sacred Pavilion begins with a selection of masterpieces portraying the Madonna and Child, spanning from the 12th to the 18th century. It then proceeds with five works dedicated to the theme of the Annunciation and another five depicting the Adoration of the Magi and Shepherds. The path continues with works illustrating various biblical episodes and concludes with a collection of five pieces dedicated to the iconography of the Saints.
So, let’s embark on this fascinating journey into the world of the Sacred, stepping into augmented reality in the Fourth Pavilion of the museum.
Access the fourth Pavilion dedicated to the sacred theme, and you’ll find a panel with menus for the five rooms that make up the collection. Choose the second option from the menu and look around, keeping your device straight in front of you at eye level. As you turn your gaze clockwise, you will see the following works appear in augmented reality: Masolino’s Annunciation and Hans Memling’s Annunciation, both dating back to the 15th century, Paolo Veronese’s Annunciation from the 16th century, El Greco’s Annunciation from the 17th century, and Paul Gauguin’s ‘La Orana Maria’ (Ave Maria) dating to the 19th century.
The theme of the Annunciation is one of the most iconic and significant in Christian sacred art. It represents the moment when the Archangel Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary to announce that she will become the mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit. This event is narrated in the New Testament, in the Gospel according to Luke (Luke 1:26-38). Initially, Mary is troubled and frightened by the Angel’s arrival, but she humbly accepts God’s will.
Today, we will focus on exploring Hans Memling’s Annunciation.
🖼️ Pavilion: Fourth Pavilion. The Sacred – Religious Art
🏛️ Room: Second Room. Representations of the Annunciation from the 15th to the 19th Century
📍Location: Second painting (clockwise)
🎨 Artwork: Hans Memling’s Annunciation
The painting before us is not very large, measuring approximately 76 centimeters in height and 55 in width. It is highly likely that it was commissioned to adorn the residence of a wealthy patron in Bruges. This work is rich in details and significant symbols, typical of a representation of this kind. As the name of the room suggests and the title of the artwork indicates, we are faced with one of the most common subjects in Christian art: the Annunciation. It depicts the Archangel Gabriel announcing to the Virgin Mary that she will give birth to Jesus, the Son of God.
But let’s examine the work as a whole. Where does the scene take place? Who are all the characters present, and what details has the Flemish artist included to make the narrative even more captivating?
Let’s begin our exploration by observing the artwork as a whole. At first glance, it is evident that the scene takes place inside a bedroom, as indicated by the presence of a sumptuous canopy bed in bright red. This type of bed, known as a “hang bed,” derives its name from the fact that the canopy was suspended from the ceiling by cords, as you can see from the ropes in the upper left corner of the canopy, connecting it to the wooden ceiling.Hang beds were popular in the northern region around the 1400s and are also depicted in numerous manuscripts of that era.
Note that the canopy curtain is tied, in likely for easy access to the bed during the day. This iconographic detail – the curtain-sack – also holds symbolic significance, but we will delve into that aspect later.
Next to the bed, you can admire an elegant wooden cabinet on which three objects are placed: an empty candelabrum, a wax linen ball, and a glass carafe. This cabinet is made of fine wood and features front panels adorned with engravings, as well as an opening sealed by intricate locks.
Now, let’s focus on the flooring, composed of tiles arranged in a checkerboard pattern, with an alternating sequence of light and dark squares. The light tiles appear to be made of a stony or ceramic material in shades of beige, ochre, or ivory, while the dark squares have brown or grayish hues. In the center of each checkerboard pattern, there is a blue tile set within an ochre square. Additionally, larger dark octagonal tiles are present on the floor. This geometric design, simple yet elegant, contributes to creating a sense of order and sophistication in the room.
In the lower left corner, you’ll notice a vase placed directly on the floor, containing a white lily and a purple iris. Raise your gaze slightly to get a better look at a wooden kneeler, or a prie-dieu, with a red book resting on it.
Continuing to explore the room, shift your gaze to the left, where you can see an open window from which the main light illuminating the scene enters.
Now, let’s identify the characters portrayed in this bedroom.
On the left side of the scene stands the Archangel Gabriel, the messenger of God. He is barefoot and genuflecting before the Virgin. If you lower your gaze, you will see the toes of the archangel’s left foot gently touching the floor.
In his left hand, Gabriel holds a scepter, a symbol of his role as God’s envoy. The raised fingers of his right hand suggest that he has just spoken the words of greeting to the Virgin: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”
The Archangel wears a chasuble, a typical liturgical garment of priests, richly embroidered in red on a golden background. If you approach to observe his ample chasuble closely, you’ll notice that it is bordered with figures of gray and red seraphim interspersed with wheels.
To secure the wide mantle in place, a large gold brooch has been used. Can you recognize the precious stones composing this brooch? It’s a truly precious clasp: four cabochon gems, including two rubies and two sapphires, encircle a diamond with a pointed cut.
Additionally, Gabriel wears a diadem decorated with rubies and sapphires, framing his auburn curls that cascade down his shoulders.
The presence of such sumptuous attire is a reference to the celebration of an extraordinary event: the mystery of the Incarnation, in which the divine Word, that is, God Himself, incarnates in the womb of the Virgin Mary, as announced by Archangel Gabriel.
The Archangel Gabriel stands before a character of great importance and dignity, the Virgin Mary, and his attire is carefully chosen to reflect the solemnity of this extraordinary event.
On the right side of the painting, the Virgin Mary is depicted in her entirety, wearing a dark blue mantle over a light dress, bordered with gems and pearls.
Mary is portrayed as a young woman with long auburn hair cascading down her chest. Her eyes are lowered, and one hand is placed over her chest, while the other points to the page of the book on the kneeler next to her.
Mary has just received the announcement from Archangel Gabriel and appears to be in the process of standing or kneeling, supported by two angels. Her hand on her chest expresses her acceptance and submission to Christ’s will, welcoming the divine announcement with humility and devotion.
Despite their smaller size compared to Archangel Gabriel, the angels exude profound solemnity. Examine closely the angel positioned to the right of the Virgin, the one with wings of deep green. What is he doing? What gesture is he involved in?
Shifting your gaze downward, you’ll discover that this angel is bending down to gently lift the train of the Virgin’s dress while offering a subtle smile. The other angel, whose face closely resembles that of the Virgin, gazes directly at the viewer, establishing eye contact with the observer.
The lifting of the train identifies the Virgin as a royal bride.
Approach to observe the book indicated by the Virgin with her left hand. You can notice a red letter, most likely a ‘D’ at the beginning. It seems to be the Book of Hours containing the phrase, ‘Domine labia mea aperies’ (O Lord, open my lips).
The Hours of the Virgin, also known as the Little Office of the Virgin, were the essential text found in every Book of Hours, representing a fundamental part of daily prayers and religious devotion.
In our exploratory journey of the artwork, there is a significant element missing: the dove that appears behind the Virgin, positioned directly above the bed.
This dove seems to hover above the head of the Virgin, depicted in a profile view, and its figure is surrounded by a fiery halo. The presence of this bird inside the Virgin’s bedroom raises important questions: what role does this dove play, and what significance does it hold within this artwork?
The elements present in the painting have been carefully incorporated by the artist to enrich and emphasize the depicted narrative. Let’s start with the last element we discussed: the dove.
The aureoled bird hovering just above the Virgin’s head is the symbol of the Holy Spirit itself and the miraculous conception. The dove represents the extraordinary incarnation of the Word, that is, God Himself, within Mary’s womb, as announced by Archangel Gabriel during the Annunciation.
In this unique moment, God “married” the Virgin, making her His bride and, at the same time, the mother of Christ, His Son. Through the action of the Holy Spirit, God miraculously entered Mary’s womb, inaugurating the mystery of the Incarnation.
The presence of a sumptuous canopy bed inside the room evokes the imagery of a bridal chamber and suggests the sacred act of conception. This allusion to the bridal chamber is linked to references found in Psalm 19 and the Song of Solomon in the Bible. The setting within the bedroom, with its brilliant red canopy, achieved through one of the most expensive pigments of the time, bestows a regal aura upon the bed, fitting for the representation of Christ and His mother.
The attire worn by Archangel Gabriel and the presence of assisting angels serve as a means to emphasize the regal aspects of the scene and underline the royal and divine status of Mary. The gesture of lifting the train of her robe identifies the Virgin as a true royal bride. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Mary has become the Bride of Christ and will one day reign as a queen.
Her hand placed on her chest expresses her acceptance and complete submission to the will of Christ. Furthermore, the candelabrum in the artwork maintains a long association with Mary’s role as the Bearer of God. Mary, depicted as the candelabrum, symbolizes the anticipation of Christ, the Light of the world, and her importance in the coming of the Messiah.
The tied canopy of the bridal bed stands out prominently as a maternal womb. The canopy sack of the canopy bed, which facilitated access to the bed, also becomes a symbol of the Virgin’s body, another symbol of the Incarnation.
In the painting, the objects placed above the cabinet represent the divine miracle and the Virgin as the Bearer of Divine Light. The crystal flask is likened to the Virgin’s womb, with its clarity reminiscent of Mary’s purity, and the light that can radiate through the glass symbolizes Christ, who inhabited and passed through her body. The luminous vial and the window are also symbols of the Incarnation.
Even the wax linen ball placed on the wooden cabinet is waiting to be lit, symbolizing the light of a new era and awaiting the flame of Christ.
Among the lilies depicted in Memling’s painting, there is one of a purple-blue color. This flower alludes to the sorrow that the Virgin Mary would have to endure due to the future death of Her son Christ on the cross. It is a tragic element within the joyful context of the Annunciation.
The origin of this symbol lies in Simeon’s prophecy when he foretold to the Virgin during the Presentation of Christ: ‘Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also (Luke 2:35). Artists, inspired by this biblical imagery, symbolized the Virgin’s future sorrow through the iris, whose ancient Latin name, gladiolus, literally meant ‘sword lily.’
Memling is considered one of the masters of 15th-century Flemish painting and is known for his skill in portraying realistic details, spatial depth, and masterful use of color. His work is often associated with the Flemish School of painting and the tradition of Early Netherlandish painting.
A German painter trained in the Flemish style, Hans Memling was a pupil and collaborator of the painter Roger Van Der Weyden, and he was influenced by the works of Van Eyck. He became a renowned portraitist and the preferred painter of the upper bourgeoisie of Bruges.
His portraits are meticulous in detail and highlight the individual personalities of the subjects. With his well-organized workshop, he initiated a vast production of devotional paintings
Now that we have completed the analysis of the artwork and delved into the artist’s background, we invite you to explore the artwork in the secondo room of the fourth Pavilion of Artinside Museum.
During this experience, we encourage you to view the artwork from various perspectives, keeping in mind what you have learned.
We invite you to share your reflections and comments by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your thoughts will be collected and may be included in future articles.