MASOLINO da Panicale
(b. 1383, Panicale, d. 1447, Firenze)

The Annunciation

1423-24
Tempera on panel, 149 x 115 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Fifteenth-century viewers of this Annunciation would have recognized not only its general subject, but also the particular moment Masolino chose to paint. Street preachers gave vivid accounts of Gabriel's message to Mary about Christ's birth, and audiences would also have seen the Annunciation reenacted on its feast day. In Florence, Brunelleschi designed an apparatus to lower an actor portraying Gabriel from the cathedral dome, as young children dressed as angels hung suspended in rigging. Events in the drama took place in sequence. Mary was first startled at the angel's sudden appearance; she reflected on his message and queried Gabriel about her fitness; finally, kneeling, she submitted to God's will. Here Mary's downcast eyes and musing gesture -- hand resting tentatively on her breast -- suggest the second, and most often depicted, of these stages: reflection. As did actors in the religious plays, artists used gesture and posture to communicate states of mind.

Masolino is best known for his collaboration with Masaccio on the frescoes of the Brancacci chapel in Florence -- and for his failure to pursue Masaccio's innovations. Masolino continued to paint in a style that was delicate and ornamental. His colors are flowerlike, his figures elegant but unreal. They do not seem so much to exist within the painted space as to be placed before it. In the ceiling, colorful tiles, a device used by Masaccio to create perspective lines, are merely decorative and leave space ambiguous.




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