Trivium Art HistoryDante Gabriel Rossetti

The Annunciation

The Annunciation, 1850 — Dante Gabriel Rossetti,
73 cm41.9 cm

Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted Ecce Ancilla Domini! - his interpretation of the Annunciation, in 1850, when he was 22 years old. His sister Christina Rossetti posed for Mary but Dante altered her hair colour: in this instance making it auburn to match the red palette. Dante's brother William Rossetti posed for Gabriel.

Rossetti deliberately used a limited colour range for this oil painting. The predominance of white, symbolic of virginity, is complemented by vibrant blue (a colour associated with Mary, though notably not used in his The Girlhood of Mary Virgin) and red, for Christ's blood. Lilies are traditionally the symbol of Mary in Italian Renaissance art, but they are also considered funereal flowers, indicative of Christ's death.

Ecce Ancilla Domini! received mixed reviews. The most obvious break with tradition was Rossetti's choice of placing Mary in bed - her long nightgown suggestive of a newly-wed bride - woken by the angel, who is normally depicted appearing as Mary prays. Also controversial were Gabriel's lack of wings and nakedness, glimpsed through the side of his robe. Note also the dove's halo, and the differences between Mary's and Gabriel's haloes, which may have arisen because Mary's was painted in 1850, whereas Gabriel's was not added until 1853.

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