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Francesco del Cossa - The Annunciation

by Stefanie Meier-Kaftan

The 139 x 113.5 cm large work of the early Renaissance by Francesco del Cossa, executed in tempera on poplar wood, is one of his major works and came to Dresden in 1750. Del Cossa himself is one of the most important representatives of the Ferrara school of Renaissance painting.

It can be seen how the archangel Gabriel announces the birth of Jesus (Luke 1, verse 26-38) to Mary. The artist places this biblical scene in a splendid architecture, constructed with the means of central perspective, emphasizing depth. At the top left in the blue of the sky, God the Father appears, sending down the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. At the moment of the Annunciation, she is in her bedchamber. The curtains in front of the bed, tied back, are radiantly illuminated by the light. A prayer desk adorned with a frieze of dancing putti indicates Mary's piety, and the book lying on it indicates her wisdom. Mary wears a veil as a sign of her virginity. The narrative design of the scene and the precise, detailed painting are typical of the Renaissance.

The artist's preference for ornamental decoration is also noticeable. Under the triumphal arches of a fantastic Renaissance palace architecture, Mary stands at the moment of the Incarnation with downcast eyes, her right hand placed on her chest, which is seen as a gesture of humility. Gabriel, kneeling on the left in front of a column that separates him from Mary, announces with an expansive gesture the will of God the Father, visible in front of the triangle of the Trinity in the sky. Thereby the dove serves as a sign of the sent Holy Spirit.

The picture shown is not only exceedingly rich in detail, it also contains numerous symbols, among others in animal and vegetable form. The snail crawling along the lower edge of the picture is a symbol of Mary's purity. It got its significance from the fact that in medieval writings it was assumed that snails were asexually fertilized by the dew. At the same time, the snail is a reference to Mary's life without sin and to the virgin conception. In addition, the lilies, considered a symbol of purity, decorate in stylized form in relief the curves of the architectural arches under which Mary stands. In the courtyard in the background, a dark, wolf-like dog prowls away, symbolizing evil. Adjacent to the palace is a ruined tower, seen as a reference to the Palace of David or the Synagogue.

Francesco del Cossa - The Annunciation

Tempera on canvas, 1470, 137 x 113 cm, Old Masters Picture Gallery in Dresden


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