The Annunciations to the Virgin Mary and to St. Joseph

5th century
Triumphal arch, Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

The Annunciation is recounted in Luke 1:26-38. The angel Gabriel is pictured twice: once flying into the scene and once standing to Mary's left with his hand raised in the gesture that signifies speech. Mary sits on a sausage-shaped pillow on a backless throne, a common detail in Byzantine and early western Annunciations. At her right is a large basket full of thread. According to the Protevangelium of James, she was spinning thread for the Temple veil when the angel arrived. Above her the Holy Spirit approaches in the form of a dove (Luke 1:35).

The account in Matthew 1:18-25 notes that Mary was espoused to Joseph but not yet living with him when her pregnancy became evident. Accordingly, the mosaic pictures two separate houses. The open curtains at the entrance to Joseph's house reveal a burning lamp that hangs within. Mary's house has swinging doors on which some sort of fabric has been hung. Presumably these features have symbolic significance.

On the right side of the scene Gabriel is again pictured twice, once turning away from Mary and once facing Joseph and telling him to "fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 1:19-23).

This image is in the top register of the mosaics on the left side of the arch.

View the entire left side in full resolution.
View the entire arch.
Read more about images of the Annunciation.
Read more about images of St. Joseph.

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