24 March – Feast of St. Gabriel, Archangel – images

Today, the day before the Feast of the Annunciation, is the Feast of the announcing Archangel Gabriel.  He is one of three holy angels whose name we know from Holy Writ.  His name means roughly “God is my strength”.

Gabriel shows up in Daniel and helps to interpret his visions.   Gabriel later announces the birth of John the Baptist to Zacharias (Luke 1:5-7).  Then he announces the birth of the Lord (Luke 1:21-25).  He is named in some apocryphal works as well.  He is sometimes associated with the angel in Revelation who will sound a trumpet for the resurrection of the dead.

There are innumerable depictions of Gabriel before the Annunciate, sometimes more glorious and sometimes more humble.  All interesting.  Do you have a favorite?

Here are a few of mine.

Sandro Botticelli has Gabriel placing himself below the Annunciate.  Note the colors of their robes and the position of their hands, the echo of the tree and lily, the perspective created with the flooring.

I have a soft soft for Barocci and his colors, and his tenderness and depiction of awe. Here the angel seems to be in awe even as he announces. Dove-winged Gabriel is in the very moment of explaining while pointing to the prayer book, Scripture, in her hand.  And there’s a cat, ignoring the whole thing, which would be the usual thing for a cat to do in such a moment, for in paintings cats are often symbols of infidelity and fickleness.  I also dig Mary’s hat, hanging up.

Years later we have this.   From Glyn Warren Philpot, early 20th c.

Mary is not even seen except in the eyes of the angel.

No longer groveling below, he swoops in from above…

This is in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. I once knew the Maestro Grande and had a private tour to all the nooks there. Fascinating. Tintoretto emphasizes the poverty of the Holy Family and sense of surprise. Heaven suddenly pours into the wreckage of human living.

And Caravaggio with that light and that characteristic hand

Henry Ossawa Tanner, “The Annunciation,” 1898

Gabriel is more like himself, I think. He reminds me of the “pillar of fire by day”. Mary would become in this moment the tabernacle of the presence foreshadowed by the tent of meeting in Exodus.  The angel is like the fire in the bush.

George Hitchcock… here the angel is the most like himself.  He cannot be seen.   This isn’t one of my favorites, but it is thought provoking.

Many will emphasize the dialogue.  Could this be the most famous?

San Marco, Florence.  Beato Angelico.  I like the raptor wings and the lovely hortus. Note the hands of the Announcing and the Annunciate.   I think you can right click and get a larger.  You need it.

Leonardo seems also to emphasize the dialogue.  Again with the hands.  The Annunciate Virgin seems to be marking her place for reading when the interview is done.  If not for her raised hand there seems to be little surprise, only slightly enigmatic attention.  The raptor-winged angel is all business.

One could multiply these nearly beyond count.

Perhaps you have your favorites.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Pingback: Salutation to the Glory of Mary | Catholicism Pure & Simple

  2. AutoLos says:

    Carlo Crivelli’s (1486). I’m a sucker for paintings with peacocks ever since I learned about their symbolism in Christian art and once when I was leaving adoration and two peacocks were waiting outside the door. Stunning.

  3. Not says:

    Traditional Art work is part of our faith. There is order and beauty.
    Modern Art is chaos, disorder, no beauty.

  4. Kathleen10 says:

    Henry Tanner’s seems most accurate, in some way. So fun to try to imagine how Gabriel looked to her, what a lovely scene to contemplate. These are all so wonderful. I can’t imagine seeing them in person.

  5. Mario Bird says:

    Tanner’s Gabriel reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ description of oyarsa from the beginning of Perelandra. Or maybe that’s putting the chicken before the egg…any chance Lewis saw this painting?

  6. JGavin says:

    It is fitting he would grovel. “More honorable then the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim.” “our tainted nature’s solitary boast”

  7. Lurker 59 says:

    I enjoy very much those painting (and icons) where the Blessed Virgin was in the middle of reading the scriptures, indicating that she concieved in her heart before she concieved Him in her womb.

    One of my current favorites is The Annunciation by George Hitchcock.

  8. Lurker 59 says:

    should clarify, not the one Fr. Z posted but this one

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