Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)
Although his name is not known, the Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula was one of the most accomplished painters active in Bruges at the end of the 15th century. This exceptionally well-preserved triptych reveals him to be a superior craftsman and a gifted colorist, whose mastery of the medium of oil paint exemplifies one of the great achievements of early Netherlandish art.
The Annunciation takes place in the bedchamber of the Virgin, a setting that alludes symbolically to the consummation of her marriage to God. With a prayer book in her hand, she kneels humbly on the floor at the prie-dieu situated directly in front of the red-covered bed. The Archangel Gabriel has suddenly entered the room-his robes still fluttering-and interrupted the Virgin's prayers with his message. The opening words of the angelic salutation appear on a banderole: Ave Gratia Plena (Hail, full of grace). The Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, hovers above the head of the Virgin as Christ is conceived in her womb. The rich liturgical vestments worn by the archangel characterize him as a participant in the Mass, providing a visual cue that links the central subject of The Annunciation Triptych to the theology of the sacraments. On the tiled floor in the center of the room is a majolica vase filled with lilies and columbines, both traditional Marian symbols. The white lily refers to Mary's purity and her lineage, whereas the blue columbine blossoms symbolize her sorrows.
Inside, the wings of the triptych are divided vertically into two scenes, each one depicting pairs of male saints: Jerome and Francis at top left, Bernardino of Siena and Anthony Abbot at bottom left, John the Baptist and Benedict at top right, and Michael and Christopher at bottom right. The diminutive saints stand in verdant landscapes, one of which features a distant view of the Flemish city of Bruges. When the triptych was not being used for prayer, its wings would have been closed, concealing the brilliantly colored panels of the interior behind shutters painted in grisaille to imitate stone sculptures of saints Paul and Bernard.
Hail, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. -Luke 1:28
The Annunciation takes place in the bedchamber of the Virgin, a setting that alludes to the consummation of her marriage to God. The Archangel Gabriel has interrupted the Virgin's prayers with his message: "Hail, full of Grace." The Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, hovers over her head as Christ is conceived in her womb.
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