Advent Again … Hovering

December 10, 2012

Titian, Annunciation, 1564
(Chiesa de San Salvador, Venice)

It’s December. It’s Advent. Time to look at some Christmas art. No offense to Titian, but this painting is one that I would expect to find on a dollar-store Christmas card. And, maybe for that exact reason, it deserves a deeper look.

It shows the angel appearing to Mary to tell her that she’s going to give birth to the Son of God. Some of the usual iconography is there: the book in her hand to suggest that she’s a pious young woman; the dove to indicate that she will be impregnated by the power of the Holy Spirit; and the vessel on the floor to remind us that she will be the “vessel” of God.

But in other ways, this is a surprising depiction of the event. The setting is ambiguous, but it certainly isn’t the typical cloistered interior. Instead, this space is wide open to the outside. What’s more, clouds billow and cherubs hover overhead, parting just enough for the Holy Spirit to descend on a brilliant shaft of light. It’s a little dramatic.

My attention is drawn to those little angels—in part because some of them are oddly contorted, but mostly because they are the most dramatic element of the painting. They don’t just hover, some of them seem to swoop and lunge. And many of the faces express delighted expectation. They know what’s happening and it seems like they are crowding around to get a good view.

We, too, know what’s happening. We know that Mary is going to give birth to Jesus who will be the savior of the world. But do we, here at the beginning of Advent, look on with the same kind of anticipation as the angels? I think I mostly anticipate the trappings of Christmas; I don’t necessarily anticipate a birth.

I delivered my second child a couple months ago and I awaited that birth with intense anticipation. I couldn’t wait to have that baby out of my body, but I also couldn’t wait to meet him. I knew that a big story would start unfolding the moment he was born.

Here we have another big story that will start to unfold once the baby is born. I would like to be filled with anticipation, but it’s hard because I know the story already. Then again, so did the angels, right? And here Titian imagines them hovering around excited to see it all anyway.

I think I will practice hovering this month.

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One Response to “Advent Again … Hovering”

  1. Mel Says:

    I’m glad your blog is still active! My art history blog is quiescent at the moment, as I’m focused on the Sisters’ farm blog, but I will spend some time studying your posts with great pleasure.


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