Not bad for a 20 year old. But of course Leonardo da Vinci was no ordinary young man.
His “Annunciation”, painted around 1472, is widely acclaimed as a Renaissance masterpiece. Yet the skill and attention to detail of this genius, although already incredible, did not reach their peak until a quarter of a century later in “The Last Supper”, “The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne” and âThe Mona Lisa. ‘
The Gospel of Luke (1: 26-38) records the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary to announce that she has been specially chosen by God to be the mother of the long awaited Messiah of Israel. âHail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. You are blessed among women.
How’s that for a greeting!
This incredible event is known as the âAnnunciationâ, based on the Latin words used in the translation of the Vulgate: âannuntiatio nativitatis Christiâ or âannouncement of the birth of Christâ.
The visit of Mary was a popular theme of the Renaissance. Renowned artists Sandro Botticelli (c. 1490), Titian (c. 1564), Filippo Lippi (c. 1445), and many other painted versions. Most followed the same pattern, with a kneeling Gabriel on the left, a regal-looking Mary on the right, and the scene depicted as a garden, courtyard, or room seemingly fit for a queen.
Leonardo’s version shows that Gabriel has just landed in a beautiful walled garden. The ribbon on her right sleeve is still floating, with her winged entrance stirring grass and flowers. Her right hand is raised in humble greeting and pronunciation while her left holds a white lily, a symbol of Mary’s purity.
Da Vinci’s Mary sits on a slightly raised platform just outside a Renaissance palace. It intricately depicts Mary’s clothes, even down to the smallest folds of her garments and exquisite garments. With a placid and serene look on her face, her hand on the Old Testament scriptures, a halo above her head (to display the special grace of God upon her) and a transcendent luminescence on her face, she appears. quite the Renaissance vision of the Blessed Virgin destined to be the mother of God and the future queen of heaven.
Leonardo da Vinci’s âThe Annunciationâ is a painting for the ages.
However, this is far from the truth, more influenced by tradition and the imagination than by Scripture. Most of the Brides depicted in Renaissance art seem to be between 20 and 35 years old, while the real Mary was over 15!
Jewish culture considered a young girl’s marriage to be arranged when she reached puberty, which by then was usually between 14 and 16 years old. She was engaged – a contractual commitment almost as strong as marriage, but involving no sexual relationship – and officially married about a year later.
Did Marie wear fancy clothes and live in an affluent neighborhood? No. Nazareth was truly a city nowhere in a country nowhere, a market town with a population of probably less than 500. Nazareth would have been filled with small houses, many with only a larger room used as both living and sleeping space, with a smaller adjoining animal room.
Several generations often lived together under one roof. Sometimes the houses were built in crevices / caves carved into the hillside, providing natural cooling and protection from the elements. Rammed earth floors would have been the rule.
We do not know anything about the parents of Mary or Joseph, but it seems that their families were poor, having nothing to pass on to the marriage of their children. In fact, when Jesus was born and his parents took him to the temple for the offering and sacrifice required by the Mosaic law, Joseph and Mary could only give the poor man’s amount.
When Gabriel suddenly appeared to Mary, she would have looked younger, poorer, and more surprised than Leonardo da Vinci’s Mary. A serene look on his face? Most likely the face of a terrified teenager! The archangel tried to allay his fears when he said, âDo not be afraid!
His radiant face? Most likely glistening with sweat, with specks of dust and dirt, as she trained in the yard, maybe even tending to the animals. Or maybe she was temporarily alone in her dark, cramped house, mending clothes or preparing food for her family.
Mary certainly looked more “poor Cinderella” than a saint. However, God chose to work through this 15 year old (in the eyes of the world). Incredible! But she was someone special in the sight of God. He knew her, her faith and her righteousness as he looked at the heart of his servant.
One of the great messages of Scripture is that God is not swayed and influenced by outward appearances. He looks at the heart. He is also no respect for persons. Money, power, prestige, title, etc. mean nothing to Him. He knows everything, sees everything and is a fair judge.
The actual Annunciation was probably unworthy of a large picture, and the elite of Jewish society would have looked askance at a humble peasant like Mary as “Theotokos” or “bearer of God.” But God chose her to be the mother of his Son.
âHail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. You are blessed among women!
The world needs more people with the faith, humility and character of Mary.
Gregg Nydegger is the evangelist at the Church of Christ in Monticello.