The Annunciation

First half of the 14th century
Marble relief
Detail from the reliefs on the west façade, Orvieto Cathedral

Mary is shown inside a temple, as in most early images of the Annunciation. But this image exemplifies two new developments in late-13th and 14th century Annunciation iconography. First, Mary is shown with a book rather than a distaff or fabric. This is to illustrate Pseudo-Matthew's statement that she "was always engaged in prayer and in searching the law." Second, her gesture changes. In the older images she held her hands palm-out toward the angel, and expression of reserve and detachment; in the new style, she holds her right hand to her chest, signaling her humility.

The second through fourth registers of the relief, with six scenes from the Nativity cycle.

In the second millenium it is by no means unusual for the angel to be portrayed on his knees, as here, but in the majority of Annunciations he is standing. As usual, his right hand makes the pointing gesture associated with announcements while his left holds a sceptre.

The pointing figure in the next register down is one of the Twelve Minor Prophets, who are pictured with scrolls representing the prophecies that were thought to foretell the birth of Christ and other episodes in his life.

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Photographed at the cathedral by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.