CARNEVALE, Fra
(b. ca. 1425, Urbino, d. 1484, Urbino)

The Annunciation

1445-50
Tempera and gold on wood, 70 x 78 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

This painting has a great number of familiar symbols of the Virgin to evoke the life of a patrician Florentine. The Annunciation is shown taking place in an open court before the Virgin's house. Her bedchamber, luxuriously decorated with ermine hangings, curtains, and a small, open cupboard, is seen through a marble door at right. Behind the Virgin a green curtain has been drawn back to reveal the view through another door into a dining room, where a table, stool, and bench are arranged in front of a staircase leading up past an open window. An elaborate bronze grill is shown unlocked, with a key in its open gate. It provides symbolic as well as visual access to an area paved with inlaid marble slabs in front of an altar set up against the exterior wall of the house. Beyond this sanctified area is a deep, colonnaded portico, at the end of which is a door surmounted by an escutcheon supported by two winged putti that leads to an arbour and a closed gate. The walled garden (the 'hortus conclusus') to the left of the colonnade is surrounded by the arbour and contains cyprus trees (symbols of the Virgin), a well (the 'fons hortorum'), a thatched structure of some sort, and peacocks (symbols of immortality).

The arms of Jacques Coeur (c. 1395-1456), the wealthy merchant and finance minister of Charles VII are prominently displayed in the tympanum of the door behind the Virgin, indicating that the painting was commissioned by Jacques Coeur who had a special devotion to the Annunciation: the subject is depicted in a magnificent stained-glass window illuminating his family chapel in Bourges Cathedral.

It is in the domestication of the religious theme and the fastidious attention given to the architecture that Fra Carnevale reveals his authorship. Also characteristic of Fra Carnevale is the system of perspective which is based on the same principles as that found in his Annunciation in Washington.