Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) was the first African American artist to achieve international acclaim. He attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and settled in Paris to continue studying. It was only after he became established as a salon artist in Paris that he began focusing on religious subjects.
In Tanner’s The Annunciation, Mary looks toward the light of the Angel Gabriel. Tanner captures Mary’s reaction as she learns of God’s plan for her. In Mary’s face we see her humility, her apprehension: Tanner captures her recognition of the magnitude of what this moment means both for her own life and for the world. Here we see Mary depicted without a halo, without heavenly attire—just a young peasant girl whose expectations for her future have been immediately, drastically altered. Mary understands that this path will not be easy, yet she offers herself wholeheartedly to God.
As we celebrate Advent, we are reminded of how profoundly Christ’s birth impacts our lives if we choose to follow him. And we rejoice, because Jesus comes not only to change our own lives, but to change the whole world.
If you wish, sit quietly with the picture and reflect on the following questions:
- What would I like to say to Mary right now?
- What is God asking me to do this Advent?
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