Mary, a young unmarried girl in the remote village of Nazareth, had a profound experience, a message from God that the gospels describe as the visit of an angel. She was asked to be the mother of a son who would one day be the Messiah. She accepted this awesome task.

Hidden meanings in Annunciation paintings

  • Light passing through a glass window, or a walled garden, symbolize Mary’s chastity.
  • Christians believed the Annunciation took place in springtime – the Annunciation is celebrated on 25 March, nine months before Christmas Day. So Mary is often shown with a spring flower in a vase, which later became a lily, symbol of virginity.
  • The archangel Gabriel is winged and traditionally in white. He may be descending towards the Virgin, or standing or kneeling before her. In early examples the angel holds a sceptre tipped with a fleur-de-lys, an attribute of Gabriel, but later he holds the lily. In Sienese paintings he holds an olive branch, a sign of the enmity that existed between Siena and Florence, since a lily was the emblem of Florence.
  • Mary is often shown with a book open at the celebrated prophecy of Isaiah (7:14), ‘A young woman is with child, and she will bear a son . .’
  • The dove usually descends on a slanting ray of light that touches the Virgin’s head or breast, delicately suggesting the moment of conception.
  • Italian Renaissance paintings show Mary in an open loggia, and only rarely in her house. Northern artists put her in an ecclesiastical setting, because the Gothic style with pointed arches and slender pillars symbolized Christianity and the Church. This contrasted with other buildings — rounded arches, plain pillars and domes — which correspond to the architectural style of the eastern Mediterranean, and are therefore symbolic of Judaism. The Virgin is sometimes depicted within or standing at the door of a Gothic building, while nearby the Romanesque crumbles into ruins.
  • The area in which the Virgin receives the angel is well lit, illuminated by the light of the Christian faith, in contrast to the small dark windows of an ‘eastern’ (Romanesque) temple.
Annunciation, Edward Frampton

Annunciation, Edward Frampton

Annunciation, Fra Angelico, 1438

Annunciation, Fra Angelico, 1438


Annunciation, John William Waterhouse, 1914

Annunciation, John William Waterhouse, 1914


Annunciation, Titian, 1522

Annunciation, Titian, 1522


Annunciation, Antonello da Messina, 1474

Annunciation, Antonello da Messina, 1474


Annunciation, Fra Angelico

Annunciation, Fra Angelico


Annunciation, George Hitchcock, 1887

Annunciation, George Hitchcock, 1887

Annunciation, John Collier

Annunciation, John Collier

Other Paintings

Jesus Christ
Modern images of Jesus and Mary
Birth of Jesus