It seems surprising to think of an image of the Annunciation as having a
function beyond a straightforward devotional image. But this is because
we now tend to compartmentalise the sacred and the secular in a way that
would have seemed strange in the past.
One secular function for the image was as a gift to celebrate
a birth. A nativity scene could perform the same function, of course. The
painting could be kept in a domestic setting, or placed in a church as a
offering to give thanks for a safe delivery.
Annunciations were often two-part images - Gabriel in one part, Mary in
the other. This arrangement was ideal for a pair of doors. Doors had a
symbolic significance - revelation, and a way through the the new world to
come. The 12th century 'Holy Doors' (below left) are from St
Catherine's Monastery in Sinai.
The two-part Annunciation was often used for the outer wings of a
triptych. If painted on the outside of the triptych, as in this version by
Rubens, (below right) the doors could be opened to 'reveal' the events
We have looked at this painting by
Fra Filippo Lippi before, but haven't talked about its shape. It was
probably a lunette over a door in the Medici palace. Today, the idea of
using religious images for domestic decoration seems slightly shocking,