Advent Blog 2020 – Journey Through Advent in Art

As a part of our Advent Blog series, Wednesdays will feature artistic renderings of the Advent story. This week, I want to share with you “The Annunciation” by Henry Ossawa Tanner, which is one of my favorite paintings of this familiar Christian story. “Annunciation” paintings are a genre that depict the angel Gabriel sharing the news to Mary that she will bear God’s son (Luke 1:26-38).

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1898), Philadelphia Museum of Art

Here in Tanner’s rendering, he steps out of the genre’s tradition which usually depicts Gabriel with wings, a dove descending, and perhaps a lily. Annunciation paintings also often picture Mary reading a Bible, praying, or often wearing the attire of a noble woman (as in many Renaissance and Reformation-era renderings).

Here, however, Tanner depicts a traditional Middle Eastern home with Mary listening closely to a soft glow of light. Here we feel like we can step into the painting and hear the conversation just as it appears in scripture. It seems Mary is just about to say “how can this be?”

Henry Ossawa Tanner was the son of an African Methodist Episcopal preacher, and one of the first African American artists to receive international recognition. He painted this piece just after a trip from Egypt upon returning to Paris. This painting is housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Take a moment to read the story from Luke while looking at the painting. Use this practice of “visio divina” to invite God near in meditation and prayer.

– Rev. Emelia Attridge