Annunciation (Armadio degli Argenti) Fra Angelico Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Annunciation was a theme addressed by Fra Angelico many times within his career, and the specific artwork in front of us here was produced as part of a large body of work to decorate the Armadio degli Argenti, or Silver Chest, which was to be found in the church of Santissima Annunziata in Italy.

The artist returned from a spell in Rome in order to help out with the restoration of the church which involved a number of different artists completing a series of projects. Fra Angelico was specifically brought in for the decoration of a cupboard in what was a more significant task that one might initially think. This cupboard hosted a large amount of silver which had been donated to the church by visitors in recent years and it was decided that a grander display was fitting for this considerable generosity. There would be panels of small artworks arranged together in groups that could be added to the shutters which really added some aesthetic interest to an otherwise plane piece of furniture. Piero di Cosimo de' Medici was the patron of the chapel in which this cupboard could be found and he desired the biggest names in Italian art to produce the finest results possible once it was decided to renovate much of the building in the mid 15th century.

The Annunciation details the Angel Gabriel delivering an important message to Mary and many artists have taken this topic into their work. Just Fra Angelico alone produced several different interpretations, though he did not vary too much of the scene in most cases. The two figures would either be placed outdoors in a garden, or in a small room close to the garden. Mary would always be listening intently and generally the angel would be signified by large wings protruding from the back. In the case of this version, Fra Angelico chose to paint stripes across the wings which gives them a greater prominence within an otherwise relatively plain artwork. The artist regularly captured architectural features within his work and was highly skilled in this genre, and we also find a strong use of perspective in the garden which continues into the distance in the very centre of the composition.

Alternative versions of the Annunciation by Fra Angelico include Annunciation (1435, Madrid), Annunciation of Cortona and Annunciation with Saint Peter Martyr. The later Renaissance artists would also continue to take on this topic as other churches elsewhere in Italy wanted to have something similar. Fra Angelico left behind a great legacy which others would continue in later centuries, just as he himself had been inspired by artists from the 13th and 14th century. This is the common route taken by art history and one can follow this link more easily within the Renaissance because of the use of artistic studios in which assistants would continue in a similar style even after the master himself has passed away.