Master of Charles of France
Tempera and gold leaf on vellum
each 6 3/4 x 4 7/8 in. (17.1 x 12.4 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 1958 (58.71a,b)
This manuscript painting presents the Annunciation as a bustling tableau in elegant and refined surroundings. The double-page illumination was originally part of an unfinished book of hours, made for Charles of France. This picture shows his coat of arms while he was duke of Normandy.
The ceremonial aspects of the scene are emphasized by its extended treatment on two manuscript leaves. The kneeling angel Gabriel, bearing his scepter as herald of God, is placed inside a gilded portico on one page facing the golden-haired Virgin seated on a brocaded cushion beneath an elaborate octagonal structure representing the Temple. Gabriel is accompanied by a procession of angels, some playing musical instruments. His words of greeting, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee," are written in gold, while above, the dove of the Holy Spirit flies toward the Virgin, emanating rays of light. In the church interior extending behind the Virgin, Mass is being celebrated, attended by a fashionably dressed lady and two gentlemen. Also depicted are sculpted figures of prophets and the sibyl who foretold the coming of the Savior. Adam, too, whose sin made necessary the advent of a Redeemer, appears. This juxtaposition places the Annunciation within its theological, rather than narrative, context.
The compositional innovations are enhanced by the virtuoso illusionism. Not only are the sculpted architectural elements and decoration captured in superb naturalism, but the lush representation of the French countryside contains a princely château that can be identified as Mehun-sur-Yèvre. Now in ruins, the château was one of the favorite residences of Jean, duc de Berry, and a place where Charles spent a great part of his youth.