Angel of the Annunciation

With his head turned slightly to the right, a life-size Archangel Gabriel solemnly informs the Virgin Mary of her role as the future Mother of Christ depicting the Annunciation in the Christian tradition. He wears a red cloak fastened at his neck and hanging from his shoulders over a blue and green garment that outlines his slightly flexed right knee before falling to the ground.  His left arm, partially missing, likely held his cloak. It follows an iconography of thirteenth and fourteenth century whereby the angel is shown with his right hand raised in blessing and his left hand either holding the folds of his robe or clenching a short rod or scroll. 

The back of Gabriel depicts how the sculpture was carved in the round and likely placed in a space that allowed the viewer to witness different sides of the angel. This is would also be the case when considering how his wings may have required a certain amount of spatial volume in order to be attached.

At least two layers of polychrome are evident, and where these have flaked off, such as the shoulders, the right side of the mantle, along the hem, and at the sleeve of the left hand, a layer of linen is visible. Gabriel’s head has been greatly restored over time. In 1950, the sculpture underwent restoration by wax immersion, which secured flaking paint and structurally stabilized wood that had been severely damaged by insects. 

The three-quarters view allows one to see the cascading fabric of the Archangel and the likelihood that his left had held his cloak.

The Annunciate Angel likely had wings, made of either metal or leather, that would have compositionally framed Gabriel and contributed to the sanctity of his message. This is evident in the channels on his left and right shoulder, respectively. The back was hollowed out and subsequently closed with a separate panel, as was customary practice in fourteenth-century Italy. The angel would have also been paired with a standing life-size figure of Mary nearby, in a church or chapel context.

Bill Skinner is a second-year PhD student in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at Brown University. His research interests include architectural Modernism and twentieth-century housing and town planning. 

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Museum appropriation fund, June 1, 1937. The sculpture was formerly in the collection of Edouard Larcade of Saint Germain-en Laye, Paris.  

Exhibition History


Publication History

Reproduced: Art News, January 8, 1939, 19. 
RISD Bulletin XXV, no. 4, October 1937.
Gesta XX/2 (1981), 362.
Gillerman, Dorothy W., ed. Gothic Sculpture in America. New York: Garland Pub., 1989, 371–72.

Relevant Bibliography

Rees, Valery. From Gabriel and Lucifer: A Cultural History of Angels. London: I. B. Tauris, 2013.