THE CHRISTMAS CANVAS: ‘The Annunciation’ by Henry Ossawa Tanner

 CHRISTMAS! Up goes the twinkling tree and on go the glistening lights. It’s the season for gifts and candy canes; for fruit cakes and carols. But beyond the bows and mistletoes in a tiny manger lies the true magic of Christmas; of a Saviour born as man!

This magic of Christmas has for long enchanted artist who have employed their flair and brush to narrate a timeless story from the Annunciation to the Presentation.  This Christmas we bring to you the Christmas story through 12 brilliant masterpieces.

It all began in a little town of Galilee named Nazareth. ‘In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a Virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph. The virgin’s name was Mary.’ (Luke 1:26 – 27) In medieval imagination Mary is projected as a pristine and terrified virgin, interrupted at her psalter and enclosed in an ostentatiously decorated room or a garden of an Italian villa. 

In today’s painting, Henry Ossawa Tanner teases this subject in an unconventional manner. He reckons the simplicity of the scene rather than its theatrical recreation. In the intimacy of a chamber Mary is portrayed as a dark haired Jewish peasant girl seated at the edge of her couch in a striped crumpled attire. The orderly arrangement of the room in contrast to her bed confesses that Mary has suddenly been awakened in the night.  

The blinding form of the angel is the only source of light in the room. As this infused flood of golden light falls onto Mary’s face it allures us to where fear begins to give way to contemplation and contemplation to acceptance. It arrests our attention and ignites our imagination.

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