(active 1394, Firenze, d. 1424, Firenze)


Tempera on wood
Pinacoteca, Vatican

"The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary...." These words echo the beginning of one of the biblical narratives of Jesus' conception and birth. The story of the archangel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she, though a virgin, was to give birth to the Messiah depicts in a few verses the reality and the functions of angels.

The angel was sent by God to this world to make the announcement. Since God's realm was thought of as "above" our world, angels are often visually represented with wings, much the way Jupiter's messenger, Mercury, had wings on his sandals, hat, and wand. How else but by flying could God's messengers get from heaven to earth and back?

Angels in the Christian tradition are not gods like the pagan Mercury, but are special messengers of the one God. They are creatures whose being is above that of humans but not equal to that of God. Mary trusts the angel and responds to God's message because she recognizes Gabriel as a superior being used by God to make his message credible. Hence she responds, "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me."