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Jean Hey’s Annunciation Essay

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By most accounts, the year 1500 was in the midst of the height of the Italian Renaissance. In that year, Flemmish artist Jean Hey, known as the “Master of Moulins,” painted “The Annunciation” to adorn a section of an alter piece for his royal French patrons. The painting tells the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary to deliver the news that she will give birth to the son of God. As the story goes, Mary, an unwed woman, was initially terrified about the prospects of pregnancy, but eventually accepts her fate as God’s servant. “The Annunciation” is an oil painting on a modest canvas, three feet tall and half as wide. The setting of the painting is a study, Mary sitting at a desk in the bottom right hand corner reading, and the angel Gabriel behind her holding a golden scepter, perhaps floating and slightly off the canvas’s center to the left. Both figures are making distinct hand gestures, and a single white dove, in a glowing sphere of gold, floats directly above Mary’s head. The rest of the study is artistic but uncluttered: a tiled floor, a bed with red sheets, and Italian-style architecture. “The Annunciation” was painted at a momentous time, at what is now considered the end of the Early Renaissance (the majority of the 15th Century) and the beginning of the High Renaissance (roughly, 1495 – 1520). Because of its appropriate placement in the Renaissance’s timeline and its distinctly High Renaissance characteristics, Jean Hey’s “Annunciation” represents the culmination of the transition from the trial-and-error process of the Early Renaissance, to the technical perfection that embodied the High Renaissance. Specifically, “Annunciation” demonstrates technical advancements in the portrayal of the huma...


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...t would help bring into understandable light the mystery of the Church’s teachings. Finally, achievements in re-creating human emotion would ensure the painting’s, and therefore the Church’s teachings would leave an indelible mark on all of its viewers.

Despite its non-Italian origins and because of its timing and specific achievements in the portrayal of the human form, emotions, and artistic balance, Jean Hey’s “Annunciation” can be considered a natural representative of the culmination of the transition from the learning process of the Early Renaissance to the perfect execution of the High Renaissance.

[1] p56 – Baxandall, Michael. Painting & Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy. Oxford
University Press: Oxford, 1988. All further page citations reference this work.

[2] p70

[3] p71

[4] p1

[5] p5

[6] p40

[7] p41

[8] p43


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