Exhibitions: James Tissot: “The Life of Christ”

James Tissot: The Annunciation

According to Saint Luke, an angel appeared to Mary and announced that she would bear the Son of God. Tissot adhered to art-historical precedents for this biblical episode, placing the Angel Annunciate at left and Mary at right. Her white robes, symbolizing purity, set her apart from the pattern-on-pattern furnishings that the artist used to signal the “authenticity” of the exotic Eastern setting. Mary sits on the floor with head bowed and hands open, humbly accepting her role.

In a later commentary in his illustrated edition of the New Testament, Tissot wrote extensively about the hierarchies and anatomies of angels. Citing biblical texts, he indicated that the cherubim, the angelic messengers he depicted in some of his images, were endowed with the face of a man and three pairs of wings: one pair to veil the face, another to cover the body, and the last used for flight on divine missions.