The Annunciation

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After a design by an artist in the circle of Andrea Mantegna (c. 1430–1506)
Italy, presumably Mantua

The Annunciation, 1484/1519

Wool, silk, and gilt- and silvered-metal-strip-wrapped silk, slit, dovetailed and interlocking tapestry weave
179.4 x 113.7 cm (70 5/8 x 44 3/4 in.)
Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson, 1937.1099

One of the very few Italian tapestries to survive from before the 1540s, The Annunciation depicts the archangel Gabriel announcing to the Virgin Mary that she will bear the son of God. This is one of the most sacred events in the Christian faith, as it is the very beginning of Christ’s life and the Incarnation of the Word. The scene is charged with symbolism: the moment of conception is represented by the dove—standing for the Holy Spirit—in the sky between Gabriel and Mary; the archangel holds a lily, a symbol of purity; and in the near foreground are a guinea fowl and a peacock, both of which signify immortality, and two doves that represent the souls of the blessed. The coats of arms at the top belong to Francesco II Gonzaga (1466–1519), marquis of Mantua, and were added at an unknown date after the initial weaving had taken place. Such personalization of tapestry acquisitions was typical among noble families.

— Exhibition label, The Divine Art: Four Centuries of European Tapestries, November 1, 2008–January 4, 2009, Regenstein Hall.