Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Annunciation to Zechariah

Title: Annunciation to Zechariah
Artist: Domenico Ghirlandaio
Medium: Fresco
Size: tbd
Date: 1490
Location: Tornabuoni Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence.

Luke 1:5-25: Herod was king of Judea. During the time he was ruling, there was a priest named Zechariah. He belonged to a group of priests named after Abijah. His wife Elizabeth also came from the family line of Aaron. Both of them did what was right in God's eyes. They obeyed all the Lord's commandments and rules faithfully. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was not able to have any. And they were both very old. One day Zechariah's group was on duty. He was serving as a priest in God's temple. He happened to be chosen, in the usual way, to go into the temple of the Lord. There he was supposed to burn incense. The time came for this to be done. All who had gathered to worship were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah. The angel was standing at the right side of the incense altar. When Zechariah saw him, he was amazed and terrified. But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will have a child. It will be a boy, and you must name him John. He will be a joy and delight to you. His birth will make many people very glad. He will be important in the Lord's eyes. He must never use wine or other such drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he is born. He will bring many of Israel's people back to the Lord their God. And he will prepare the way for the Lord. He will have the same spirit and power that Elijah had. He will teach parents how to love their children. He will also teach people who don't obey to be wise and do what is right. In this way, he will prepare a people who are ready for the Lord." Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man, and my wife is old too." The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I serve God. I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will have to be silent. You will not be able to speak until after John is born. That's because you did not believe my words. They will come true when the time is right." During that time, the people were waiting for Zechariah to come out. They wondered why he stayed in the temple so long. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple. They knew this because he kept motioning to them. He still could not speak. When his time of service was over, he returned home. After that, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant. She stayed at home for five months. "The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days, he has been kind to me. He has taken away my shame among the people."

The Biblical episode of the apparition of the Angel to Zechariah is portrayed within magnificent Renaissance church architecture. Zechariah is portrayed on the altar in the centre, with the Angel Gabriel suddenly appearing on his left to announce to him that he will have a son. The scene is crowded with six groups of characters on six different levels. Aside from the group of six maidens on the right, the others are all portraits of contemporary Florentine notables. On the lower left are the Renaissance humanists, including Cristoforo Landino (the one with a black collar) and Agnolo Poliziano (the second from right). The figures standing on the right are relatives of the patron; behind them is a self-portrait of Ghirlandaio (the second from right, next to a youngster with long hair, probably his son or brother, who is also present in the Expulsion of Joachim).

Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449 – January 1494) was an Italian Renaissance painter from Florence. Among his many apprentices was the renowned Michelangelo. Ghirlandaio's compositional schema were simultaneously grand and decorous, in keeping with 15th century's restrained and classicizing experimentation. His chiaroscuro, in the sense of realistic shading and three-dimensionalism, was reasonably advanced, as were his perspectives, which he designed on a very elaborate scale by eye alone, without the use of sophisticated mathematics.

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