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‘What Manner of Salutation This Should Be’: The Disquieted Gaze in Fra Angelico’s San Marco Annunciation

‘What Manner of Salutation This Should Be’: The Disquieted Gaze in Fra Angelico’s San Marco Annunciation

By Grace Johnstone

WRECK: graduate journal of art history, visual art and theory, Vol.2:2 (2008)

Abstract: In Fra Angelico’s Annunciation fresco in the North corridor of San Marco in Florence, the Virgin raises her eyes and gazes, warily, at the intruding angel who has interrupted her repose beside a garden. Fra Angelico’s unprecedented composition, centered on the Virgin’s raised eyes that meet the Angel Gabriel’s gaze, is the departure point for this paper, which locates the Virgin in a moment of tension where she “knows not what manner of salutation this should be.” Usually depicted as a yielding vessel with downcast eyes, here the Virgin is shown with a forthright gaze, a rare instance in Renaissance versions of the subject. Drawing on medieval theories of vision, Lacanian ideas of subject formation, and the Dominicans’ particularly embodied way of viewing, this paper positions the Virgin as an important model for Dominican novices’ religious development.

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