Dumbarton Oaks/Washington, DC

The Annunciation. “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you”: The annunciation to Mary opens with the same speech in the Gospel of Luke 1:28 (the only canonical gospel to relate the event) and the Infancy Gospel of James 11:2. In Luke, the setting is not specified; in James, the annunciation takes place in two stages at two sites: The angel first approaches Mary beside a well, but she runs away frightened. The angel then appears in Joseph’s home, where Mary is spinning wool for the Temple curtain. James has apparently merged two earlier traditions about the site of the annunciation.

Images of Mary beside the well, such as this 12th-century mosaic from the Church of San Marco in Venice, are fairly rare; the annunciation in the house (not shown here) is far more common. In eastern church art, Mary is generally shown at home spinning wool; in western art, she is often reading a book, perhaps because of the greater influence in the West of the Pseudo-Gospel of Matthew, which emphasizes Mary’s learning.