The divine light in Beato Angelico’s Annunciation of Cortona

“Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee.” According to Christian tradition, these are the words the angel Gabriel spoke in greeting that girl “Created beings all in lowliness /
Surpassing, as in height, above them all” (from Dante’s description of Mary in the first verses of the “Paradise”, XXXIII).

Upon the annunciation of her divine motherhood, Mary simply answered: “Ecce ancilla Domini, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum” (“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word”).

The episode is one of the most often represented in the history of art, all over the world.

Friar Beato Angelico (1395-1455) was one of the many artists whom it inspired. Indeed, the square altarpiece he painted for the Church of Gesù in Cortona around 1430 – on commission by a textile merchant – was his first great masterpiece.

Currently held at the local Museo diocesano, the painting shows Mary sitting under a portico in a walled garden (a symbol of her chastity taken directly from the Vulgate Bible, in which she is given the title ‘hortus conclusus’, “enclosed garden”). She listens and replies to the Archangel, overthrowing with her assent the disobedience of Adam and Eve (their expulsion from the Garden of Eden is evoked in the upper left corner of the panel).

The dialog between the two is written in gold, as if the words flowed from their mouths, like in modern cartoon bubbles.

The light shining on the whole scene is, of course, a prelude to the light that nine months later would illuminate the history of humanity.

The divine light in Beato Angelico’s Annunciation of Cortona

Cortona (Ar)
Museo diocesano del Capitolo, piazza Duomo, 1
+39 0575 62830


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