The Archangel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she will give birth to the Son of God. The dove of the Holy Ghost hovers above her in a bright circle of light. The Virgin, with her eyes closed and arms outstretched, accepts her role as mother of Christ. Poussin’s treatment of this subject is unusual, showing the Virgin sat cross-legged. Her cloak is usually blue, symbolising heaven, but here it is yellow, signifying hope and purity. Despite the room’s rather plain appearance, the clothing shimmers in the light shining from the left and the angel’s wings are decorated with three vibrant colours.
A wooden plaque fixed to the stone wall or parapet shows Poussin’s signature, the date 1657 and the name of Pope Alexander VII Chigi (1599–1667), who may have commissioned the painting.
The Archangel Gabriel announces to the Virgin that she will bear the Son of God (Luke 1: 26–38). A dove of the Holy Ghost hovers above her in a bright circle of light. The Virgin, with her eyes closed and arms outstretched, accepts her role as mother to Christ. In the Bible, the Virgin responds to the angel by saying: ‘Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.’
In other paintings of the Annunciation in the National Gallery, we see winged putti surrounded by clouds and the angel holding lilies as a symbol of purity. Poussin’s work is unusual, showing the Virgin sat cross-legged on a cushion. Her cloak is traditionally painted blue, as a symbol of heaven, but here it is yellow which may signify hope and purity. Fra Filippo Lippi’s The Annunciation and the Master of Liesborn’s Annunciation panel for the Liesborn altarpiece show her traditional appearance.
A trompe l'oeil wooden plaque fixed to the stone parapet or low wall contains Poussin’s signature, the date 1657 and the name of Pope Alexander VII Chigi (1599–1667), who may have commissioned the painting. However, it is not mentioned in any guidebooks to Rome that describe the Pope’s houses and collection. The Virgin and angel are carefully arranged on the parapet as if the painting were intended to be part of a building. Poussin’s patron and mentor Cassiano dal Pozzo died in 1657, and was buried in Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. This work could have been painted as a memorial for his tomb.
The 1650s represent Poussin’s late career, when he had developed a personal style inspired by his study of classical antiquity and Renaissance art. The figures are idealised and their rigid poses and stiff drapery recall ancient statues. The raised stone floor and column at the right give us an idea of the depth and size of their surroundings. Despite the room’s rather plain appearance, the clothing shimmers in the light shining from the left and the angel’s wings are decorated with three vibrant colours.
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