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Gabriel and the Virgin II

  • Simon Altmann (a1) and Gloria Martínez Leiva (a2)

In a previous paper in the European Review one of us discussed the positioning of the Archangel Gabriel in Annunciation pictures from the point of view of his chirality.1 By means of a very extensive database it was shown that the Angel is mostly represented as dextral, which favours his position on the left of the picture. We have now extended and improved this database. In the previous work we were able to discuss chirality in only a fraction of the over 1000 examples treated, because in many of them the Angel has his arms crossed on his chest. We observed that dextrals normally do this with the right arm over the left one. In 1073 examples from the third century (henceforth C3) to 1750 we found only 99 sinistrals. The period from C3to 1400 is very important, being more stable, so that the pictorial traditions of the Annunciation were established during it and it shows only two sinistrals over 100 examples. There are several hypotheses about the positioning of the Angel and Virgin in the pictures which were not discussed in the previous paper and which will now be treated in the light of our results. It is clear that there are two different strands: until 1400 the weight of tradition prevails, but after this period fashion becomes more significant, with great painters such as Titian creating a large number of imitators. After 1400, composition becomes freer and more complex and artists become more interested in the pictorial impact of their work than the iconographic impact. The new freedom enjoyed by the artists means nevertheless that some purely pictorial conventions acquire greater weight; they appear to rule the composition and are discussed in detail in this article.

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1. Altmann, S. (2016) Gabriel and the Virgin: The secret of the Annunciation. European Review, 24(1), pp. 149158.
2. McManus, I.C (1973) Determinants of laterality in man. PhD thesis. Cambridge, UK.McManus, I.C. (2005) Symmetry and asymmetry in aesthetics and the arts. European Review, 13 (Supp. No. 2), 157180.
3. Discussion of the Annunciation scenes is done by Battisti, E. (1994) Il Laudario di Orvieto e il Ludus fiorentino dell’Annunciazione: due esperimenti in database. In A. Ottai (Ed.) Il teatro e I suoi doppi. Percorsi multimediali nella ricerca sullo spettacolo. Atti del Convegno ‘Per un Museo multimediale dell’attore.’ Roma, 5–8 maggio 1988 (pp. 75–90). (Roma: Kappa.) See also S. Altmann (2013) Right and left in art: The Annunciation. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 31(2), pp. 223–238.
4. Pacheco, F. (2009) Arte de la Pintura, B. Basegoda i Hugas (Ed.) (Madrid: Ediciones Cátedra), p. 594.
5. da Voragine, Jacopo (1989) Leggenda Aurea, C. Lisi (Trans.) (Florence: Libreria Editrice Fiorentina), p. 237.
6. For an exhaustive treatment of these subjects the reader could do no better than consult the following works of Professor José María Salvador González: (2013) Flos de radice Iesse. A hermeneutic approach to the theme of the lily in Spanish Gothic painting of The Annunciation from patristic and theological sources. Eikón Imago, 4(2) (Madrid: Universidad Complutense), pp. 183–222; (2014) Flos campi et lilium convallium. Third interpretation of lily in the iconography of The Annunciation in Italian Trecento art in the light of patristic and theological sources. Eikón Imago, 5(1) (Madrid: Universidad Complutense), pp. 75–96; (2016) Per aurem intrat Christus in Mariam. An iconographic approach to the conceptio per aurem in Italian Trecento painting from patristic and theological sources. De Medio Aevo, 9(1) (Madrid: Universidad Complutense), pp. 83–122. In preparation: Haec Porta Domini. Exegesis of the Greek-Eastern patristic on the Porta Clausa and its influence on the medieval iconography of the Annunciation. In preparation: Haec porta Maria est. The biblical metaphor of the Porta Clausa in late medieval iconography of The Annunciation in the light of the Latin Patrology. We are very grateful to Professor González for communicating these papers to us and for very useful discussions.
7. Ordinal references to elements of the database indicate no more than their temporal position in it.
8. McLaughlin, J.P. and Kermish, J. (1997) Salience of compositional cues and the order of presentation in the picture reversal effect. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 15, pp. 2127. The very interesting results from the animal kingdom are from G. Vallortigara (2006) The evolutionary psychology of left and right: Costs and benefits of lateralization. Developmental Psychobiology, 48, pp. 418–427.
9. Chatterjee, A. (2001) Language and space: Some interactions. Trends in Cognition Sciences, 5, pp. 55–61. See also A. Chaterjee (2002) Portrait profiles and the notion of agency. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 20, pp. 33–41; A. Chatterjee (2011) Directional asymmetries in cognition: What is left to write about? In: T.W. Schubert and A. Maass (Eds), Spatial Dimensions of Social Thought (Boston: Mouton De Gruyter), pp. 189–210. For a review of his later work see also A. Chatterjee (2011) Neuroaesthetics: A coming of age story. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23, pp. 53–62.
10. McManus, I. and Humphrey, N. (1973) Turning the left cheek. Nature, 243, pp. 271272. See also I.C. McManus (1979) Determinants of laterality in man. PhD Thesis, Cambridge, UK; and I.C. McManus (2005) Symmetry and asymmetry in aesthetics and the arts. European Review, 13(2), pp. 157–180.
11. Suitner, C. and Maass, A. (2007) Positioning bias in portraits and self-portraits: Do female artists make different choices? Empirical Studies of the Arts, 25, pp. 7195.
12. Wölfflin, H. (1941) Über das rechts und links im Bilde. In: H. Wölfflin (Ed.), Gedanken zur Kunstgeschichte: Gedrucktes und Ungedrucktes (3rd edn). (Basel: B. Schwabe & Co), pp. 82–90; R. Arnheim (1954) Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Art (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press); M. Gaffron (1950) Right and left in pictures. Art Quarterly, 13, pp. 312–331; M. Gaffron (1950) Die Radierungen Rembrandts. Originale und Drucke: Studien über Inhalt und Komposition (Mainz: F. Kupferberg); M. Gaffron (1956) Some new dimensions in the phenomenal analysis of visual experience. Journal of Personality, 24, pp. 285–307.
13. Buswell, G.T. (1935) How People Look at Pictures. A Study of the Psychology of Perception in Art (Chicago: Chicago University Press).
14. McLaughlin, J.P., Dean, P. and Stanley, P (1982) Aesthetic preference in dextrals and sinistrals, Neuropsychologia, 21, pp. 147–153; J.P. McLaughlin (1986) Aesthetic preference and lateral preferences. Neuropsychologia, 24, pp. 587–590; C. Nodine and E. Krupinski (2004) How do viewers look at artworks? Bulletin for Psychology and the Arts, 4, pp. 65–68; P.J. Locher (2006) The usefulness of eye movements recording to subject an aesthetic episode within visual art to empirical scrutiny. Psychology Science, 48, pp. 106–114. See also P. Locher, E.A. Krupinski, C. Mello-Thoms and C. Nodine (2007) Visual interest in pictorial art during an aesthetic experience. Spatial Vision, 21, pp. 55–77.
15. Hernandez Belver, M. (1990) La experiencia artística y el lado derecho del cerebro. Arte, Individuo y Sociedad, 21, pp. 55–77, found differences between pupils of the Academy of Fine Arts and others, and J. Avrahami, T. Argaman, and D. Weiss-Chasum (2004) The mysteries of the diagonal: Gender-related perceptual asymmetries. Perception and Psychophysics, 66, pp. 1405–1417, observed gender differences.
16. Pérez González, C. (2007) Defining a model for representation for 19th century Iranian portrait photographs. Photoresearcher, 8, pp. 1722.
17. It is of some interest to note that the Paraclete ray sometimes carries a representation of Baby Jesus: we have 19 examples, in 10 of which the baby carries the cross. This can be huge, as in the Ayuntamiento de Valencia, 1515, by a disciple of Juan de Flandes, where it is several times larger than the baby. The first baby appears in 1310–1315 by the Florentine painter Pacino di Buonaguida.
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European Review
  • ISSN: 1062-7987
  • EISSN: 1474-0575
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