Today is the Feast of the Annunciation. It commemorates, as you may know, the angel Gabriel announcing to the Virgin Mary that she is “with child”. For many years now we have been able to discuss this event with a memory from my daughter’s first Nativity Play at her primary school. The boy chosen to play the angel Gabriel shouted to the girl playing the future mother of Jesus, “Mary! You’re gonna have a baby!”
It is, appropriately, exactly nine months before Christmas Day. I reminded my children of this fact earlier this weekend, to confirm something that they have both learnt over the years: it takes nine months for a baby to go from fertilized egg (a concept they have both now covered in the relevant school lessons) to new-born baby.
The Annunciation may not be universal knowledge but I would expect most adults to recognize what was going on if they saw a painting of it. In the last few months I have taken both of my children, on separate occasions, to the Wallace Collection, one of my favourite galleries here in London. We looked for The Laughing Cavalier and paintings by Canaletto, which led me there on my first solo trips to town as a 12 year old, researching a school project. (Canaletto remains one of the few artists I know much about.) We also looked at paintings of scenes from the Gospels. “That picture there, with the baby in a manger, with the shepherds all round him; who’s that then?” “Jesus?” they each answered speculatively. “Yes. And what about that picture there?” (I was pointing to Philippe de Champaigne’s The Annunciation, which you can see here.) No response. “Well, it’s an angel, saying something to a woman.” Still no response. “It’s a woman, it’s probably the Virgin Mary, and there’s an angel saying something to her. What do you think he’s saying?” Slight delay, then, with great confidence: “Mary! You’re gonna have a baby!”