Ever since this altarpiece was first exhibited at The Met in 1959, seventeenth-century-painting specialists have found it difficult to place in Luca Giordano's oeuvre. That it is by him there can be no doubt: the signature and the date, 1672, are authentic. But the diaphanous handling of paint sets it apart from the artist's documented works of the period. It is quite unlike other works that Giordano painted in 1672—The Madonna of the Rosary
(church of San Gregorio Magno, Crispano), The Circumcision
, and The Immaculate Conception
(both oratory of the Monte dei Poveri, Naples). The anomalous character of the Annunciation
, however, may be due to its probable provenance from a church in Venice. Throughout his career, the facile Giordano painted imitations of earlier artists, such as Lucas van Leyden (ca. 1494–1533), Dürer (1471–1528), and Raphael (1483–1520). Perhaps knowing the present painting was destined for Venice, Giordano deliberately cast it in a style recalling Titian (ca. 1485/90?–1576).
Christian Michel (1991) first suggested that The Met's Annunciation
might be the work seen by Charles Nicolas Cochin the Younger (1758) in the church of San Daniele, Venice, in the summer of 1751. That altarpiece had been mentioned favorably by Marco Boschini in his guidebook Le ricche minere della pitture veneziana
, published in 1674, two years after the date of The Met picture. Cochin, usually an admirer of Giordano, described it as an exaggerated imitation of the Venetian School. Following the Napoleonic suppression of convents in Italy, the painting was moved from Venice to Milan and, in 1814, deposited in a church at Gropello, near Pavia.
According to Giordano's early biographers, the artist spent six months in Venice in 1665–66, when the work of the great sixteenth-century Venetians inspired him to lighten his palette and to work in an increasingly free manner. Even before he traveled north, however, Giordano would have been familiar with a major Venetian work, Titian’s Annunciation
in the church of San Domenico Maggiore, Naples (painted in about 1555–56 and installed shortly thereafter). When Giordano was about thirty years old, he made a full-size copy of the altarpiece (church of San Ginés, Madrid). Another Annunciation
by Titian, a lost painting sent to Spain in 1537, also inspired Giordano. Long before he moved to Madrid, Giordano would have known its composition from the engraving (The Met, 49.97.219
) by Giovanni Jacopo Caraglio (ca. 1505–1565). As in The Met altarpiece, the engraving shows the archangel raising his right hand with the index finger extended, his draperies billowing about him.
Giordano was also deeply influenced by Rubens (1577–1640). In Naples, as a young man, Giordano would have known Rubens’s Feast of Herod
(National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh), which then belonged to Giordano’s patron Gaspar de Roomer (d. 1674). The design of The Met altarpiece may well be derived from an Annunciation
by Rubens now in the Rubenshuis, Antwerp. The similarity of the twisting poses of the archangels and the postures of the two Virgins is striking; Giordano must have seen Rubens's painting either in Naples or on his travels in Italy.
Pietro da Cortona's (1596–1669) huge altarpiece of the Annunciation in the church of San Francesco, Cortona, is also sometimes cited as a source for The Met picture, and it is just possible that Giordano saw it being painted in Rome, in the late 1660s, or, less likely, on one of his trips through Tuscany (Milkovich 1964).
[2011; adapted from Fahy 2005]