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The Annunciation

Jan van Eyckc. 1434 - 1436

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

The Annunciation described by Saint Luke is interpreted in terms of actuality in this painting, which was probably once the left wing of a triptych. The forms—even that of the archangel—seem to have weight and volume. Light and shadow play over them in a natural way, and with amazing skill, Jan van Eyck has distinguished between the textures of materials ranging from hard, polished stone to the soft, fragile petals of flowers.

Yet religious symbolism speaks from every detail, expounding the significance of the Annunciation, and the relationship of the Old Testament to the New. The structure of the church can be interpreted symbolically; the dark upper story, with its single, stained–glass window of Jehovah, may refer to the former era of the Old Testament, while the lower part of the building, already illuminated by the "Light of the World" and dominated by transparent, triple windows symbolizing the Trinity, may refer to the Era of Grace of the New Testament. The idea of passing from old to new is further manifested in the transition from the Romanesque round–arched windows of the upper story to the early Gothic pointed arches of the lower zone, and also in the depictions on the floor tiles: David beheading Goliath and Samson destroying the Philistine temple are both Old Testament events in the salvation of the Jewish people which prefigure the salvation of humankind through the coming of Christ.

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Details

  • Title: The Annunciation
  • Date Created: c. 1434 - 1436
  • Physical Dimensions: w341 x h902 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Andrew W. Mellon Collection
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: oil on canvas transferred from panel
  • artist: Jan van Eyck
  • Theme: religious, Life of the Virgin Mary
  • School: Netherlandish
  • Provenance: Possibly the Chartreuse de Champmol, near Dijon.[1] Sale, Paris, 1819. (Charles J. Nieuwenhuys, Brussels). William II, King of the Netherlands [d. 1849], in Brussels until 1841, thereafter The Hague;[2] (sale, The Hague, 12 August 1850, no. 1); bought by Bruni for Czar Nicholas I of Russia [d. 1855], Saint Petersburg; Imperial Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg;[3] purchased June 1930 through (Matthiesen Gallery, Berlin; P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London; and M. Knoedler & Co., New York) by Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; deeded 5 June 1931 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA. [1] C.J. Nieuwenhuys, Description de la Galerie des Tableaux de S.M. le Roi des Pays Bas, (Brussels, 1843), 2, on the history of the painting says: "D'après les meilleurs renseignements qu'on a pu obtenir, ce tableau faisait suite à deux autres peintures du même maitre; il a été peint pour Philippe le Bon, duc de Bourgogne, et destiné à orner un monument réligieux à Dijon." S. Reinach, "Three Early Panels from the Ducal Residence at Dijon," Burlington Magazine 50 (1927), 239, published a fragmentary description written in 1791 of three paintings kept in the Prior's room, but originally in the ducal chapel of the Chartreuse de Champmol. This reads in part: "Dans la chambre du Prieur on conserve deux tableaux sur bois dans le genre des premiers peintres flamands, qui proviennent des chapelles [sic] des Ducs: ils ont environ 4 pieds de haut. Le premier, d'à peu près un pied de large, est un Annonciation..." Although the dimensions do not match those of the Gallery's painting, the general shape is similar and the tall, narrow format is rather unusual for a Netherlandish Annunciation. Nieuwenhuys' statement that the painting came from Dijon, coupled with the 1791 description, raises the possibility that 1937.1.39 is identical with the painting mentioned as being in the Chartreuse de Champmol. The manuscript is in the Bibliothèque Publique, Dijon, Ms. 88, fol. 53. [2] Nieuwenhuys 1843 (as per n. 1 above), 2; in 1841 the works of art were transported from Brussels to a gallery built for them in The Hague. [3] The Getty Provenance Index lists The J. Paul Getty Museum's copy of the auction catalogue as its source for the name of the agent Bruni (who is not listed in the provenance as it is published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue).

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