Before introducing these two images to the viewer I will begin with an explanation of icons and images. I assume that we will not have the chance to visit these in person so context on the types of images and their placement would be very important. To view images iconically is to behold them in a participatory way. We are looking at these images not just to notice what is there but what is not, not simply what is absent but what is unsaid by the image. Learning to gaze at these images in this way will also help us develop this gaze for other situations such as the liturgy, another time in which we experience more than what we see before us yet is still present. We can become more aware of how we must receive, not just grasp at what we can see.
Let us first look at Fra Angelico’s “The Annunciation” fresco located in the Convent of San Marco.
In Chloe Reddaway’s work she discusses this piece and the Didi Haberman’s view that the incarnation was not just “‘an’ event in time and place but ‘the’ time and place of mystery of the Incarnation” (126). This fresco is an invitation to contemplate the mystery of the incarnation, not just a glimpse into the sight of the moment. Fra Angelico’s frescoes of these mysteries depict a similar appearance of the San Marco where they are not just housed, but painted into the walls themselves. We can ask ourselves, what effect does that have in how we experience the image. This is only one fresco of an entire convent where the walls and chapels. It is not just the architecture within the fresco but also St. Dominic’s presence which strikes us as out of place. Didi Haberman also speaks on this element of Fra Angelico’s frescoes. He believes that the inclusion of that which does not belong to the scriptural account of a scene invites us into contemplation. Consider that Mary is holding a book in her hands. Why do you think either of these details were included? What are they saying about the Annunciation?
Let us look next to the Columba Altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden. Altarpieces are their own genre of religious art which you can probably already feel a shift from the fresco, even with them both featuring the Annunciation. Altarpieces have a more central role within the liturgy and being a focal point for those in the pews to ponder during the mass and specifically during the consecration and were prominent when the priest was celebrating with their back to the congregants. If we gaze at this piece with the understanding that it is inviting us to participate in revelation what do feel it reveals? What do you feel each of these moments reveals about the Eucharist? You may notice that Mary is present in each of these moments of the life of Christ. Does it make a difference to you to see other figures behind the altar, not just Christ? This could be inviting us not only to ponder the life of Christ but also the communion of saints. Or Mary as the model of the Church.