Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ancilla Domini

Title: Ancilla Domini
Artist: Rupert Bunny
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Size: 100.3 x 110.4 cm
Date: 1896
Location: Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.

Luke 1: 26-33: In the sixth month after Elizabeth had become pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee. He was sent to a virgin. The girl was engaged to a man named Joseph. He came from the family line of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel greeted her and said, "The Lord has given you special favor. He is with you." Mary was very upset because of his words. She wondered what kind of greeting this could be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary. God is very pleased with you. You will become pregnant and give birth to a son. You must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord God will make him a king like his father David of long ago. He will rule forever over his people, who came from Jacob's family. His kingdom will never end."

This section of Luke’s Gospel focuses on the simple faith of a teenage girl, Mary. As a young girl, of perhaps twelve or fourteen years old, Mary would have has virtually no social status with which to expect such a laudatory greeting. Indeed, it is easy to understand why she would have been “troubled” by such words. There is a Pre-Raphaelite influence in this work that is evident in the way that the artist has used the bright, flat surface of the red drape to frame the action and turn the angel into a monumental silhouette; other Pre-Raphaelite touches include the black-and-white tiled floor and the compressed space of the room with its low platform or dais. The influence of Symbolism abounds as well: the angel is holding a stem of white lilies, the lily being a Christian symbol for the Virgin Mary; the rose held by Mary is particularly associated with the Virgin, who was known as 'the rose without thorns'; the book on the lectern near Mary's head refers to Mary being in the act of reading when the angel appeared, the passage in question being from the celebrated prophecy of Isaiah (7:14), 'A young woman is with child and she will bear a son'.

Rupert Bunny (September 1864 –May 1947) was one of the generation of Australian artists who went abroad in the later 19th century to extend their training and establish their reputations; Bunny travelled to Europe in 1884, and studied in Paris at the studio of Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921), a French artist who specialized in historical and religious subjects; in 1888, Bunny exhibited with the Société des Artistes Français and in 1890 he became the first Australian to gain a 'mention honorable'; he painted many subjects during his long career, including portraits, landscapes, and mythological and religious themes, but is best known for his paintings of women, either languidly reclining single figures or a group in intimate conversation, evoking a luxurious and leisurely world.

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