MARY – A MASTERPIECE: ‘The Annunciation to St. Anne’ by Bernhard Strigel (1505 -10)

STRIGEL, Bernhard_El Anuncio a Santa Ana, c.1505-1510_ 380 (1978.48)

MARY – A MASTERPIECE: ‘The Annunciation to St. Anne’ by Bernhard Strigel (1505 -10)

 The story of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary begins not in an atmosphere of good fortune celebrated with pomp and song but rather with rejection, heart-aches, searching souls and an empty womb. Having been spurned and shamed at the Temple of Jerusalem in the midst of a large congregation, Joaquim left his little town of Nazareth and went off into the wilderness to fast and pray. He lamented his fate. Truly, no good could come from Nazareth. The branch of Jesse seemed to have dried and the shoot stifled.

His wife Anna was disconsolate. Childless, she would now be called a widow. How could the Almighty curse the just? How could the God of Sarah and Rachel, Samson and Samuel not hearken to her call of distress? This absolute plight of a barren mother breathes colour and life through today’s painting. Executed by the leading German painter Bernhard Strigel, the panel exudes the triumph of redemption over rejection. Hope was on its way.

In the painting two simultaneous scenes are depicted with utmost realism.  The first scene is set within a tiled room. A sorrowful St. Anne is seen overwhelmed with sadness, mourning and weeping restlessly. As she bows her head to pray, she senses a little tug at her head-dress. However her swollen eyes decide otherwise. She uses her head-dress to wipe away her tears, when once again she senses a nudge.

As St. Anne lifts her bereaved demeanour, behold! Before her stands no human but a divine messenger.  Clothed as the sun, the immaculate being sings out the heavenly message. ‘Fear not, Anna, nor think that it is a phantom. For I am that  angel who has presented your  prayers and  alms before  God; and now have I been sent to you to announce that you shall bring forth a daughter, who shall be called Mary, and who shall be blessed above all  women. She will be full of the favour of the Lord.

Strigel presents this scene in the most interesting manner. He personifies the melodious message of the angel as a twisted phylactery. It enhances the poetic sensibility of the dialogue and presents the dawn of freedom and the fullness of grace. 

The phylactery twirls in symphony to the curly golden locks of the angel’s hair and its cascading drapery. Notice how the brilliant highlights casts deep shadows outlining the sinuous life-like folds. The colours add to the melodrama. While red signifies humanity, gold alludes to the heavenly or the eternal. Thought provoking is the fact that both St. Anne and the angel hold on to the white veil signifying purity. It heralds the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Through the sharply angled windowsill we are invited to the second scene that is set high up on the hills. The open window bears witness to the parallel apparitions and to the spirit working in unity. While the shepherds guard their flocks, a grief – stricken Joaquim, dressed as a hermit, encounters and dialogues with an angel bearing tidings of comfort and joy. Four sheep, (read four evangelist) rejoice in the Good News.  The broken were not forsaken and the scattered are now to be gathered.

In the foreground of the painting, against the periphery of the room lies a wooden cabinet with two parts, the first opens to reveal shelves while the second is closed. Was this intentional? Most probably, yes. The rendering of the cabinet marks the supreme intervention in time and inaugurates a new beginning. It symbolizes an open womb and characterizes the dawn of the New Testament and the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. The books placed within the cabinet emphasize on the Word of God revealed to Anna and Joaquim, the Word conceived by their daughter Mary, first in her heart and then in her womb. The Word of God made Flesh. No longer is the Word enclosed in a cabinet, for It dwells among us!

Joynel Fernandes- Asst. Director- Archdiocesan Heritage Museum

The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday between 9am to 5pm. For a guided tour please contact: 022 – 29271557

Spread the love ♥

You might also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *