Making the Old New: Annunciation Transcriptions

After Fra Angelico 1, Oil on matboard, 5" x 7" ©Michelle Arnold Paine 2011

After Fra Angelico 1, Oil on matboard, 5″ x 7″ ©Michelle Arnold Paine 2011

My latest studio project is making “transcriptions” of some of the classic Annunciation paintings of art history. The Annunciation has been one of my favorite images for many years. In seeking to make some of these images of Mary new in my paintings, I have taken on a studio exercise which is also a bit of a meditation.  I have been creating small studies (or “transcriptions”, as Graham Nickson of the New York Studio School calls them) of some famous Annunciation images. In painting these images I become familiar with the figures – their gesture and their form — as well as with the compositions and color.

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This first painting in the series was a study of a fresco by Fra Angelico which is at the top of the stairs of the Monastery San Marco in Florence, Italy. The monks would have viewed this every time they ascended or descended the stairs to and from their dormitory area. There is a serenity and a contemplative quality in the color palette and the composition which is compelling to me.

The “Annunciation”, found in the Gospel of Luke, is the story of how Jesus comes to be born of the Virgin Mary. The Angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her she is “highly-favoured” and that she will bear a son. Gabriel’s words become the first part of the “Hail Mary” prayer Catholics recite today: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” (Luke 1: 28). Mary reminds the angel that she is a virgin, but she accepts the task she has been given, saying “May it be to me according to your Word” (Luke 1: 38).

Stay tuned for more Annunciations in the coming weeks…

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