Early Renaissance Annunciation Pieces

An important piece of early renaissance art was the depiction of biblical scenes with in the context of the new age and rising style. The most notable pieces from this period of time were a mixture of gothic themes from centuries before and skills and techniques that would change the centuries to come. The two works, both from this time period but different regions, are representative of this mixture. The paintings are both annunciation scenes depicting the Angel Gabriel visiting Mary with the news that she is pregnant with the child of God. By putting them in a comparison it is possible to get a better understanding of the different ways Europe came out of the middle ages.

The first of the two is a Jan Van Eyck painting from the early northern renaissance, which is a rather tall composition. Mary, draped in an extremely rich blue gown and cape, sits in a dutch gothic church. She has just placed down a book and appears to be contemplating the news from Gabriel, who stands beside her in a robe and cape much more detailed and spectacular then her’s. They are set in a rather glorious gothic style church surrounded by some of the comforts of a mid 15th century flemish lifestyle. The painting also has its fair share of symbolism and subtext. The floor is covered with images of old testament stories, the walls have windows representative of the new testament, and rays of light stream down upon Mary carrying the Holy Spirit to rest upon her head. The key factor of all of this though is the way it is presented. While extravagant and unique the scene is rather common and modern. The interaction is realistic and rich with emotion and color. This Van Eyck truly holds the qualities of an early northern piece.

Beneath the Jan Van Eyck is a piece of similar concept and construct but ultimately different in its completion. Lorenzo Di Credi’s annunciation piece shows us the same of characters in a different sense. This time Mary and Gabriel appear less casual but just as intent. Dressed much simpler, they seem as if they have been placed before us on a stage and are rather isolated from one another regardless of their eye contact. They are in some sort of nondescript building placed in a garden which is much plainer and less crowded than the gothic church. This being said the painting is not without it’s subtext. At the base of the painting we see three panels depicting scenes from the biblical tale of Adam and Eve. The posturing of the two figures conveys the discussion as opposed to facial expressions. Credi’s annunciation, in comparison to Van Eyck’s, helps the viewer get a better grasp of early renaissance painting and how the north differentiated from Italy.


Jan van Eyck (Netherlandish, c. 1390 – 1441 ), The Annunciation, c. 1434/1436, oil on canvas transferred from panel, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, Washington D.C.

Lorenzo Di Credi (Italy, 1458-1537), The Annunciation c.1480-85, oil on wood, 35 x 28 in, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence