a reflection from my recent pilgrimage to Rome
One of the things I loved about Fra Angelico’s Annunciation—at the top of the stairs, on the second floor of the Monastery of San Marco, in Florence—was a small window in the background between the angel and Our Lady. The angel’s wings are soft blues and browns and creams, and Our Lady’s gown is soft and cream and blue, and there’s a sweetness about both their faces. A loveliness.
But I keep thinking about the window in the background. Just an ordinary window, latticed, with the suggestion of trees behind it. The green shadows of leaves.
I’ve seen the more geometric Annunciation of da Vinci many times in reproduction—it’s also in Florence, at the Uffizi—but when I saw it in person for the first time my eye was drawn to something I hadn’t noticed before. The angel is poised on the left, as the angel usually is, and Mary is on the right, as she usually is, reading a book, but to the right of her, as we face the painting, there’s a door, and it’s open, and through it you can see a stone floor and shadows on the floor and a neatly made bed, or part of it, the bedspread a kind of rust-colored red, as if Mary is like me when she wakes up in the morning, and before she can pray or start her day she has to make the bed and hang up her clothes. Get things organized.
I shouldn’t love Rome as much as I do, as my tastes run more towards the minimal and spare, but I love it deeply, and I think it’s in part because what’s so grand and monumental about Rome, and what’s so often jumbled about it, and chaotic and intense, only makes the small things, the ordinary things, seem all the more endearing.