Henry Ossawa Tanner's moving canvas The Annunciation was painted in 1897 soon after the artist returned to his adopted home of Paris from an extensive trip around Egypt and Palestine that made an indelible impression on his future works.
One of the first African-American artists to gain recognition in the sharply divided and segregated world of the late-nineteenth century United States, Tanner began a lengthy period of religious explorations with his Annunciation. Deeply inspired by what he saw in the Holy Land, Tanner forged this surprising and contemporary rending of Mary, the mother of Christ. Depicting the moment when Mary is visited by the Angel Gabriel and told that she will be the mother to the son of God by immaculate conception, Tanner chooses to set the scene in one of the humble peasant-homes he may have visited during his time in Palestine. Stripped of the embellishments of similar annunciation scenes, Tanner's canvas allows the dim and impoverished setting to be illuminated by the holy shaft of light.
Tanner entered his Annunciation in the 1898 Paris Salon exhibition and the work was subsequently snapped up by the Philadelphia Museum of Art the following year. Although Annunciation is a distinctly personal and private vision, Tanner's work is often categorized under the umbrella of Realism, and certainly many of his more famous canvases such as The Banjo Lesson do indeed tackle themes and depict subjects in a manner inspired by the artists Courbet and Millet. Inspired by his upbringing as the son of a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Tanner's Annunciation is a meticulous exploration of the felt reality of the biblical lore that resonated throughout his life. This intense imagined reproduction of the Virgin Mary's visitation is therefore an introspective exploration of religiosity and the lived environment of Biblical life in Ancient times.
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