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Botticelli “The Annunciation of Cestello” at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence

Botticelli, The Annunciation of Cestello, Uffizi Gallery, Florence Italy
Annunciation of Cestello
Tempera on wood (150x156 cm) 1489-1490

Moving and powerful in its great simplicity, this “Annunciation of Cestello” cuts with Botticelli's earlier paintings as “The Spring” or “The Birth of Venus”.

Here, no superfluous riches, ostentatious refinements, Botticelli chose to celebrate the precise moment of the Annunciation, where Mary's emotion and surprise are absolute, in a stripped, neutral place, to better highlight the “moment” of the encounter between the Virgin and the Messenger of God.

She is standing, reading Isaiah (7,14) in the Bible open on her lectern, Isaiah who prophesies that a young girl will give birth to a son.

It is at this very moment that the Angel Gabriel lands like an arrow in his room.

Gabriel's wings are still simmering, the folds of his clothes still inflated with air, the branch of lilies he holds, still curved by the speed of his flight.

Botticelli, The Annunciation of Cestello, Uffizi Gallery, Florence Italy
Annunciation of Cestello
He has not even finished kneeling before her: time is “suspended”, it is the sacred moment of the Annunciation.

This supernatural and lightning appearance surprises Mary in the tranquillity of her reading, hence her natural recoil movement.

She receives the words of the Angel Gabriel, who stretches out a hand towards her, with two fingers erect, the symbol of God from whom he is sent, words that want to be reassuring, but which for Mary are disturbing, upsetting and even incomprehensible:

“Ave Maria, filled with grace! The Lord is with you. Be Mary without fear, for thou hast found grace with God.

And behold, thou shalt conceive and bear a son, and call him by the name of Jesus. And the Lord will give him the throne of David.”

Botticelli, The Annunciation of Cestello, Uffizi Gallery, Florence Italy
Annunciation of Cestello
Mary is wondering.

What does it mean to be full of grace?

What does the Lord mean with me? Why am I the chosen one to give birth to the Son of God?

How can I give birth to a child who never knew a man? What should I do?

What does the Lord expect from me?

We perceive a tremor in her, we see her trouble, her hands are both stretched towards those of the Angel, but at the same time we feel them ready to defend, ready to repel him.

Mary, the sweetest of God's creatures, is visibly worried, troubled, but she is not frightened.

Botticelli, The Annunciation of Cestello, Uffizi Gallery, Florence Italy
Annunciation of Cestello
Her recoil movement is contained in this precise moment chosen by Botticelli, she “smells”, she “understands”, and immediately recovers by turning to the angel while tilting, her legs slightly bent and the bust rotating towards Gabriel who is at his feet.

And the curvature of his body is in perfect harmony with that of the white lily held by Gabriel: both follow the same curve parallel.

She is here in full motion, just as the Angel Gabriel is not yet completely kneeling: Botticelli made a real “stop on image” on this solemn moment.

And Gabriel answers his questions (inscription painted left at the bottom of the frame):

“SPIRITUS SANCTUS SUPERVENIET INTE AND VIRTUS ALTISSIMI OBUMBRABIT TIBI”

Botticelli, The Annunciation of Cestello, Uffizi Gallery, Florence Italy
Annunciation of Cestello
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall cover you with his shadow.”

While the girl's body and hands still express her upheaval, but also the beginning of her relief, her head humbly leans towards the Angel Gabriel; and Mary's grave, dignified and calmed face expresses her complete humility, her unreservedly devotion.

She is the Cone, and in this crucial moment it is on her, her attitude, her own will, her own desire, her “Amen” at the request of the Angel, at the request of God, that Jesus' arrival on earth depends to redeem the sins of all mankind.

For she cannot be a mere elect reduced to becoming the vessel, the lap that will welcome Christ and help him become flesh, she must be more than that for the Spirit to become flesh through it.

Gabriel does not command her, it is Mary who, by her own will, becomes the “doula”, the servant of the Lord, who vows obedience to the divine word and agrees to drink her chalice as her Son will.

Botticelli, The Annunciation of Cestello, Uffizi Gallery, Florence Italy
Annunciation of Cestello
Mary is the key: her obedience is not submissive, she possesses the power of her will to serve God, for it is she who chooses to conceive the one who has chosen her.

The inscription on the right at the bottom of the frame then becomes very important:

“ECCE ANCILLA DOMINI, FIAT MIHI SECUNDUM VERBUM TUUM”

“I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it come to me according to your word.”

All this is powerfully represented in this magnificent Annunciation of Botticelli.

We truly attend their meeting, the exchange of words through their open lips, the crucial decision-making of Mary.

Botticelli managed to translate Dante's verses in his “Divine Comedy” here:

Botticelli, The Annunciation of Cestello, Uffizi Gallery, Florence Italy
Annunciation of Cestello
“The Angel [...] was there before us
and seemed alive though it was engraved.
It would have sworn he'd say “Ave,”
near him was the one who turned the key
to open up to the supreme love,
humbly saying in a tender voice:
“Ecce ancilla Dei” (here is the servant of God).
Dante — Divine Comedy, Purgatory, Vocal X, V37-45

Beyond the beauty of the painting, the moving simplicity that Botticelli has so beautifully translated, the symbolic setting of the Annunciations is also present.

Yet Botticelli, like Leonardo da Vinci, frees himself here from certain architectural constraints imposed until then in the Annunciations.

The central column, an architectural element, often very elaborate, which always separates Gabriel from Marie has disappeared here.

Botticelli, The Annunciation of Cestello, Uffizi Gallery, Florence Italy
Annunciation of Cestello
It is the amount of the window door that becomes this column, where their hands almost meet.

The background landscape, representing the earthly Paradise, is present as well as the enclosed garden, the “hortus conclusus”.

The reference to the arrival of Christ is symbolized by the young and very large oak tree, the tree of life that stands out high on the sky.

It should also be noted that the landscape, the enclosed garden and the tree of life are positioned just above the Angel Gabriel: Botticelli thus delineates the celestial sphere that stops at the right side of the window door and occupies the entire left half of the painting.

Would the Virgin be excluded from it?

No, and this is where Botticelli's genius, intelligence is expressed.

Botticelli, The Annunciation of Cestello, Uffizi Gallery, Florence Italy
Annunciation of Cestello
The way in which the arms of the Angel and Mary are aligned, their palms of hands face to face, reminds of the fresco of Michelangelo's Adam's creation in the Sistine Chapel, where the finger of God is close to that of Adam, their arms in continuation of each other.

The finger of God is interpreted as symbolizing the life and soul infused in the first man.

What if Michelangelo, who painted the Sistine almost twenty years later, had taken over this idea of Botticelli?

As he had taken over from Masaccio and Masolino the elements of the earthly Paradise and the fall (Chapel Brancacci at the Carmini Church in Florence), always for the Sistine Chapel.

Botticelli, The Annunciation of Cestello, Uffizi Gallery, Florence Italy
Annunciation of Cestello
The encounter movement of Gabriel and Mary so well evokes the connection between them, between the two heavenly and earthly worlds, between God and the one who, until the Council of Trent, was shown both as a daughter of the Father, mother of the Son and wife of the Spirit.

This Annunciation was painted between 1489 and 1490 for a new chapel of the monks of Cestello.

Its sponsor, Benedetto di Ser Giovanni Guardi financed both the construction of the chapel, for 50 ducats, but also the altarpiece of the Annunciation for which Botticelli received 30 ducats.

The order was reportedly placed in Botticelli around 14 May 1489 and the chapel was consecrated on June 26, 1490, which makes it possible to situate the date of realization of this Annunciation.

Thank you, Mr. Guardi!

Botticelli Spring | Venus | Pallas | Calumny | Judith | Young Man | Magi Novella | Magi (1500) | Annunciation | Annunciation Martino |
Artists Botticelli |
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