Lady Lever Gallery – Artwork of the Month – December, 2006
‘The Annunciation’, by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones
About the artwork
‘The Annunciation’ depicts the events described in the Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 1 verses 26-35. The angel Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary, saying ‘…you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call him Jesus…’. This subject was painted several times by Burne-Jones but this painting is the most important. The angel Gabriel, suspended in space, appears to emerge from a tall bay or olive tree. The architectural background is clearly derived from the artist’s visits to Italy in 1871 and 1873.
The long, narrow composition of the picture gives it the appearances of one of his designs for a stained glass window and despite the dramatic single point perspective the emphasis on shape and pattern flattens the picture space. Burne-Jones did not want to recreate an image of a real event, rather he wished to portray a more poetic and dream-like spiritual reality. Above the arch there are carved reliefs showing the expulsion from Eden. Mary stands by a well to which she has come for water. The model for the Virgin was said to have been Mrs. Leslie Stephen – she became the mother of the author Virginia Wolf and the artist Vanessa Bell.