MURILLO, Bartolomé Esteban
(b. 1617, Sevilla, d. 1682, Sevilla)
Oil on canvas, 125 x 103 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
She is not shown in the thralls of mystical rapture, nor in those of devotion. Murillo's Mary is a very young woman with an almost childlike face, who is kneeling at her prie-dieu, her eyes cast pensively downwards. She has set aside her basket of handiwork and seems to have been disturbed by an angel in the midst of her prayers. Were it not for the presence of his wings, even the angel would seem to be a very worldly creature. He is not floating in some uncertain sphere, nor is he a vision, but is kneeling on the floor tiles. Strong-limbed and barefoot, almost like a peasant, his pretty face is framed by dark locks. With one hand, he points towards the dove of the Holy Spirit, which floats above their heads in a truly unearthly and intangible celestial vision. With the other hand, he makes a gesture of persuasion: he seems to be explaining the purpose of his mission quite vigorously to Mary.
Although the event seems plausible in a distinctly earthly manner - even the putti in the clouds do not alter this impression - the miracle is clear. Mary's innocence, underlined by the lily as a symbol of purity, is of such intensity that the spectator senses her quiet reservation, the excited anticipation of the prophesied miracle and her astonishment at the experience.