The Annunciation

Accession Number

The Annunciation

Mariano Salvador de Maella

Object Creation Date
circa 1780

Medium & Support
oil on canvas

36 3/4 in. x 28 5/8 in. ( 93.35 cm x 72.71 cm )

Credit Line
Museum Purchase

Label copy
March 28, 2009
Contrasted with contemporary scenes of everyday life from northern Europe, Maella’s painting speaks to the continuing impact of the Catholic Church in southern Europe during the time of the Enlightenment, a period in which reason ultimately came to hold sway over religious belief in much of Europe.
Maella painted this scene of the Annunciation as a preparatory study either for an altarpiece or a much larger fresco painting for a wall or ceiling in a palace or church. He rendered the small-scale study in shades of gray, a technique known as grisaille, which allowed him to examine the overall balance of light and shade in the final painting without the complicating factor of color. Maella follows established convention by representing the archangel Gabriel descending on a cloud toward the Virgin Mary to proclaim that she would give birth to Jesus, while the dove of the Holy Spirit flies down from overhead and God the Father looks on. Maella uses the subtle tonal modulations of grisaille to explore how the robust forms and grounded materiality of the Virgin and the surrounding furniture give way to the light-filled clouds and diffused shapes above; through experimenting with light, Maella seeks to bring the worldly and heavenly realms together in support of Catholic devotional practice.

Subject matter
This gray monochrome, or grisaille, painting represents the archangel Gabriel proclaiming to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to Christ, a theme known as the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38). The dove of the Holy Spirit appears above Mary's head and suffuses her with a subtle radiance as God the Father looks on from the clouds above. This painting was a preparatory study, probably for a much larger fresco painting for a palace or church that was either never finished or has been lost.

Physical Description
In this painting, rendered entirely in gray monochrome, a technique known as grisaille, an angel descends on a bank of clouds toward a woman who kneels on the floor before a prie-dieu. She looks downward and turns away from the angel in a gesture of humility, and her head is illuminated by the light from a luminescent dove in the cloud above her. A bearded man looks down from the summit of the cloud, nearly engulfed in light, and a number of cherubim appear throughout the scene. The robust forms and grounded materiality of the woman's body and the furniture around her give way to light-filled clouds and diffused forms in the upper part of the canvas as the heavenly and worldly realms come together.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type
narrative painting

Collection Area

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angels (spirits)
doves (Columbidae)
oil paintings (visual works)
prayer stools
putti (motifs)

4 Related Resources

Childbearing, birth, midwifery, maternity
(Part of 8 Learning Collections)
The Divine Comedy
(Part of 4 Learning Collections)
F20 Millman Gallery Drawing
(Part of: Resources Made by Isabel Engel)

& Author Notes

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