GIOVANNI DI PAOLO
(b. ca. 1399, Siena, d. 1482, Siena)
Tempera on wood, 44 x 33 cm
The account books of the most important offices of Siena's medieval municipality had covers made of decorated wooden panels. These were called 'bicherne', named after Bicherna, the financial office that started decorating its manuscripts before any other office did and continued to do so extensively. Production of these decorated book covers started in 1257 and continued until the middle of the fifteenth century. This strange alliance between art and bureaucracy is one of the most original manifestations of Sienese art and involved some of the finest artists.
This Annunciation panel comes from the Gabella Generale (general tax office). It shows the Virgin Mary, seated on a chest with her hands joined in prayer and wrapped in a voluminous cloak. The Archangel Gabriel stands before her with his arms crossed and holding an olive branch in one hand, symbolizing peace. In the middle of the painting, between the figures of Mary and the archangel, is a finely worked vase holding a bunch of lilies. They symbolize Mary's purity and virginity. Above the vase, God's blessing hand sends out rays of light that carry the dove of the Holy Spirit toward Mary.