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The Annunciation
Fra Filippo Lippi
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The Archangel Gabriel, huge peacock-feather wings outstretched behind him, kneels in front of the Virgin Mary, his head bowed in reverence. He has arrived with the news that she will conceive a child, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Ghost.

A small dove, the symbol of the Holy Ghost, flies towards the Virgin’s belly: this is the moment of Christ’s conception. It has been sent by God, whose hand we can see appearing from a deep blue cloud that represents the heavens. A golden light emanates from a gap in Mary’s pink dress and she bows her head towards it, in acceptance.

This picture comes from a palace belonging to the Medici, Florence’s ruling family at the time, where it most probably hung above a door. It was made as a pair; the other panel, showing seven Medici patron saints, is also in the National Gallery’s collection.

Key facts
Artist Fra Filippo Lippi
Artist dates born about 1406; died 1469
Full title The Annunciation
Series Medici (Overdoor?) Panels
Date made about 1450-3
Medium and support Egg tempera on wood
Dimensions 68.6 x 152.7 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by Sir Charles Eastlake, 1861
Inventory number NG666
Location in Gallery Room 59
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Medici (Overdoor?) Panels

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These panels were made for a member of Florence’s ruling family, the Medici, and once hung in the Palazzo Medici. One panel shows the Annunciation (when the Virgin Mary was told she would conceive a son, Jesus Christ); the other, a gathering of patron saints of the Medici family. The panels are similar in size, scale and viewpoint, suggesting that they were designed as a pair, and were intended to hang where they could be viewed together.

They may have been placed over the doors of Piero de' Medici’s study – its ceiling was decorated with ceramic roundels representing the signs of the zodiac (and, therefore, the months). The Annunciation suits such a setting: its feast was celebrated on 25 March, the first day of the Florentine calendar year. Depicting Medici patron saints may have been a way to demonstrate the protection they offered to the city throughout the year.

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