Thursday, December 11, 2008
An American Annunciation
Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898
The United States does not have the same long tradition of religious painting that Europe does. One rather obvious reason is that we just don't have long traditions because the country is a young one. Our painting heritage also focuses on different things, like landscapes and the spirit of the west. While still in our teens (comparatively speaking) modernism hit, which totally changed most subject matter. Henry Ossawa Tanner was the son of a preacher, which perhaps explains his exploration of religious themes in his art, or maybe it was the drawing of the Holy Spirit. Whatever the reason, I find his version of the Annunciation lovely. As much as I admire the many beautiful Renaissance and Baroque versions of this topic, I think Tanner's version is more realistic in its simplicity. I like how the focus is on Mary and not the grand architecture surrounding her. I like how we are left to wonder what an angel would really look like. But most of all I like how her face reflects her wonder, her question of how this could be, and her humble acceptance of God's will for her life. Tanner shows us a girl who is on the beginning of a difficult road, but who approaches it without fear--a reminder of how believers should approach the Christian faith. If you are not a believer, I would offer the angel's words to you, to "fear not," and invite you to look a little deeper this blessed season to see what the Christmas Day is really celebrating.
"And Mary said:
"My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation."