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Pesellino: The Annunciation Diptych

Details: the halo, bookstand, bedchamber, walls and flowers

Halo and purity

The Virgin Mary's face is as pure and refined as the angel's. Indeed, nothing less would be appropriate. Both she and the angel Gabriel have a halo - that radiant aura of light that surrounds the head of a holy person.

The Bookstand

Behind Mary is a bookstand. Tradition has it that when the archangel Gabriel appeared, Mary was reading the Bible. She is said to have been contemplating the passage in the Book of Isaiah about a young woman bearing a son (Isaiah Chapter 7 verse 14). This is another nuance that may be lost to us but which our Florentine would have fully understood.

The Bedchamber

On the back wall is an open door with a view into a bedchamber with a neatly made bed. In our secular and sex obsessed age where beds often suggest lust, this may perhaps surprise us. But our Florentine would have seen different implications. The fact that the bed is unruffled suggests the idea of virgin birth. , A bedchamber also suggests the idea of Mary as the Bride of Christ and the Mother of Christ.

High Walls and lilies

The courtyard garden has a high wall, and there is no view to a landscape beyond the garden. Our Florentine would have understood the symbolism of this. It is a closed garden ("hortus conclusus") i.e. the garden is separated from the cruel outside world, symbolising Mary's purity. The lily which the archangel Gabriel holds is also a symbol of the purity of the Virgin Mary.

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