MARY – A MASTERPIECE: ‘The Meeting at the Golden Gate’ by Filippino Lippi (1457 – 1504)
One of the leading exponents of High Renaissance Art was undoubtedly Filippino Lippi, son of the renowned yet controversial painter Fra Filippo Lippi (1406 – 69). Highly innovative and expressive, Filippino was first trained under his father and subsequently under the most outstanding painter of the time, Botticelli. The influence of both these master artists is evident in his masterpieces including ‘The Meeting of Joaquim and Anna at the Golden Gate’. Richly detailed and characterized by lightness and grace, the composition is housed at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, England.
We are drawn into the narrative by a gentle handmaiden who aligns her gaze to ours. She invites us to delve deep into the depicted scene and witness the marvellous mystery. The scene recounts the birth narrative of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Having had his offering rejected in the Temple of Jerusalem, the distraught Joaquim retires in shame to the countryside. Anna, his beloved wife, bitterly bewails her barren state.
Her prayerful knocks opened the gates of heaven. The angel of the Lord appeared to her saying, ‘Do not be afraid for a daughter will be born to you. She will be called blessed for generations. Arise, therefore, and go up to the Golden Gate. As a sign of what I have said, you will meet your husband of whom you have been so concerned.’ According to the Golden Legend the angel repeated the same message to Joaquim.
Fillipino Lippi, with utmost elegance, captures the tender embrace and the joyful reunion of Joaquim and Anna. Lippi cringes not from depicting the advanced age of the couple. While Joaquim reflects the kindness and concern of a father, the immaculate face of Anna foreshadows the heavenly grace of Mary. Allegorically, their affection represents the moment, the Blessed Virgin Mary, was immaculately conceived.
What heavenly bliss suffused the bystanders! Two of the three Florentines bend their head in adoration while the third, a woman, invites us, through the painting, to share in the moment of heavenly providence. The maidens cloaked in the hues of green, orange and red recall the three primary Christian virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.
To our right stands a young shepherd who continues to assist the Holy Family and partake in the Incarnation story. However, the appearance of the Shepherd is evocative of St. John the Baptist, clad in his traditional attire of animal skin. Though the narrative does not include the presence of the Baptist, his depiction by Lippi probably hints at the similar circumstances of his conception. As the Gospel of Luke states, both Elizabeth and Anna also longed for a child and conceived in their old age. John the Baptist was a precursor to Christ just as the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a precursor to the Incarnation of Son of God.
Fillipino Lippi places the scene in a hilly, somewhat rocky landscape edged by his Florentine hometown. The architectural ornamentation of the exquisite skyline as well as the Corinthian columns and the teeming reliefs of the Golden Gate bears testimony to Lippi’s absolute interest in Classical Antiquity. His allegiance to the medieval depiction of his times also confers upon Florence the title of the New Jerusalem. Lippi engraved his roots through a signature in gold on the sill of the Golden Gate. It reads: ‘PHILIPPINUS DE FLORENTIA’
Fillipino Lippi, with great delight, employs colour and gesture to emphasize at the union and the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Notice the voluminous cloaks worn by the figures. The brilliant blue drapery signifies divinity while the radiant red is reminiscent of their humanity. The garments flow in continuity and connect both Joaquim and Anna. It reflects the sacred moment when by heavenly grace both Joaquim and Anna spiritually unite and Mary, the Morning Star, is immaculately conceived. The purity and the transparency of this chosen child is mirrored by Anna’s delicate veil. The spiritual transcendence of the hour is further resounded by the emotional gesture of their touching hands that unite in prayer and humility.
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception alludes not just to Mary’s perpetual virginity but also the divine grace and goodness she received from God through her unconditional and whole-hearted yes. Mary, was not the first woman to be born without original sin. Both Adam and Eve, created by a covenant, were also preserved from original sin until they voluntarily fell into it. Eternal life that was ceased by the Fall team (Adam and Eve) through disbelief and disobedience is now to be regained by the Redeem team (Jesus and Mary) through belief and obedience. Thus the Immaculate Conception of Mary characterizes the dawn of the New Covenant with a new Adam and a new Eve, through whom is won eternal salvation!
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
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