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Inspired by the work of early Renaissance artists such as Botticelli and Fra Angelico, Rossetti sought in this work a radical reinterpretation of the Annunciation. Traditionally the Virgin was depicted in studious contemplation, reading a missal at a prie-dieu; but here Rossetti shows her rising awkwardly from a low bed, as if disturbed from sleep, while the Angel Gabriel presents her with a white lily. Both figures are dressed in white, a symbol of the virgin's purity, and the angel's role as the messenger of god is emphasised by the small white dove hovering beside him, signifying the presence of the holy spirit.
The picture was exhibited at the National Institution in 1850 and heavily criticised, partly for its didacticism. The critic for the Athenaeum wrote that it was 'a work evidently thrust by the artist into the eye of the spectator more with the presumption of a teacher than in the modesty of a hopeful and true aspiration after excellence.' (20 April 1850, p.424) Rossetti vowed never to exhibit in public again, but he continued to work on his picture until 1853, when it was sold to Francis McCracken of Belfast, an early patron of the Pre-Raphaelites, for £50.
Further reading: Leslie Parris (ed.), 'The Pre-Raphaelites', London 1984, reprinted 1994, pp.72–73; reproduced p.72, in colour. Elizabeth Prettejohn, 'The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites', London 2000, pp.50–51, reproduced p.50, in colour. Virginia Surtees, 'The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882) - A Catalogue Raisonné', 2 vols., Oxford 1971, pp.12–13, no.44, reproduced pl.29. Frances Fowle December 2000
Oil on canvas
H 72.4 x W 41.9 cm