The Annunciation

After a design by Federico Barocci Italian

Not on view

Embroidered on this small panel is a representation of the Christian story of the Annunciation: as recounted in the Bible’s Gospel according to Luke, 1: 26-38, the Archangel Gabriel (kneeling on the right of the scene) visits the Virgin Mary (to the left), to give her the news that she will miraculously conceive a son via the Holy Spirit (who is present both as God the Father in the upper right corner, and as the Dove of God, flying in a glory towards the Virgin). Mary looks up, gesturing in surprise, as if disturbed during her devotions, a book in hand. As was conventional for representations of the Annunciation designed around this time, Mary is at home in a well-appointed domestic interior. Behind her is a canopied bed, curtains neatly bundled away, whilst sweeping draperies frame a window, its view obscured by the apparition of the Dove of God. A green and white tiled floor contributes to the illusion of spatial recession.

This composition was first developed by the Urbino-based artist, Federico Barocci, in his large oil painting made in 1582-84 for Francesco Maria II della Rovere, Duke of Urbino (now in the Pinacoteca Vaticana). The design proved extremely successful adapted for the printed medium, reaching a massive audience. Also in The Met’s collection is a particularly fine hybrid etching engraving by Barocci repeating this composition (23.25.2). The embroidery’s partial degradation, particularly around the silken areas representing the protagonists’ flesh, reveals the bare canvas and previously hidden under-drawing. Particularly around the Virgin’s facial features, and Gabriel’s bare foot, it is apparent that the outlines of Barocci’s design were mechanically transferred onto the canvas support, rather than copied by eye, using the prevalent technique of pouncing.

Considerably more expensive than the printed versions, this embroidery benefits from richly dyed silks and precious metal threads, translating the painted brushstrokes, or stippled and hatched printed lines, into energetic swirls of color and shine. The whole is mounted upon a rich, deep-pile crimson velvet, with an attractive, basket-work golden braiding covering the seams, as was conventional for high-end embroidered panels of this period. Probably a stand-alone piece, rather than part of a larger set of scenes, this was likely intended for use as a small-scale devotional object, perhaps functioning within a small private oratory, or at a miniature altar in an affluent, well-appointed domestic setting. The work has experienced some handling over the course of its four-hundred year existence, with some areas of substantial historic repair, most noticeable around the Dove of God, with woolen stitches and painted detailing.

The Annunciation, After a design by Federico Barocci (Italian, Urbino ca. 1535–1612 Urbino), Silk and metallic thread, Italian

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