Encountering an Angel

Encountering an Angel

I find this one of the most beautiful paintings ever painted.

Maybe it is the sheer beauty of the angel – the beautiful gold of his wings, his halo, his glowing hair, the beauty of his whole attire, and the glorious rays of light that spring from his body:

He has an urgency about him, the folds showing him just arrived, perhaps, or perhaps about to kneel? He is both poised with exceptional grace, and also somehow in motion.

The figure of Mary, whom he is visiting, is also surrounded by gold.

This is a throne Mary never had in the Gospel accounts, and yet she is queen according to theological tradition.

In the darkness of the background of the painting, we see the tragic history of humanity that the angel is here to put right:

The figures of Adam and Eve, representing all of humanity, must leave Eden, but the good news is that their walk takes our eyes back to the glorious main scene of the angel announcing the coming of Christ to his mother.

We can see their words, hovering in the air, and also the dove of the Holy Spirit hovering over Mary under a ceiling decorated with stars – is this depicting the entire universe? The figure carved above the pillar by Mary is probaby the prophet Isaiah, from whom come the words, traditionally painted in the book Mary is reading.

The foreground action takes place in a fenced garden, representing Mary’s virginity. This is a miracle of nature.

And you feel that “Fra Angelico” – “Brother Angel” (so called because of the beautiful angels he painted) – has an awesome vision of heavenly beauty, and supernatural significance.

What a vision, that still inspires us today!

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