A Close View of Ecce Ancilla Domini! (The Annunciation) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Ecce Ancilla Domini! (The Anunciation) depicts the moment when the angel Gabriel informed Mary that she is carrying the baby Jesus Christ. He used oil on canvas to create this painting in 1850. People typically think of this Biblical scene as a joyous and celebratory time for Mary. However, Rossetti’s painting turns it into one of violence and fear. Most of the painting is made up of bland neutral colors like white. The clothing of Mary and Gabriel is white, as are the walls, bed, and floor. Therefore, the blue behind Mary and the red in front of her stand out in the painting. The colors most often associated with the Virgin Mary are white and blue. The bold red pole is a warm color, which contrasts the cool blue colored cloth that stands behind Mary. Warm colors excite and arouse people while cool colors calm and soothe them. The red vertical pole intrudes on the scene; the color red evokes emotions like anger, violence, and passion.

The composition of the painting draws the eye to Mary’s lower abdomen—to her womb or genitalia. The focal point of the painting alludes to the conception of Christ. The vertical perspective includes diagonal lines all of which work to bring to eye to that spot of Mary’s womb. The stem of the white lily acts as an arrow, pointing to her body. Gabriel’s arm extends the diagonal line created by the flower, which points to the same location on Mary. Her legs and the folds of her dress also seem designed to make the viewer’s gaze approach her genital region. The disruptive red vertical line also helps draw the viewer’s eyes; her long, straight red hair serves the same purpose.

The viewer can only see the angel Gabriel in profile, and his face is poorly lit. But there is a frontal view of Mary; she is clearly visibly, exposed. This not only helps to make Mary the focus of the painting, but her exposure also makes her seem vulnerable and helpless. The interior space in the painting looks extremely enclosed. There is no empty space around the figures. Gabriel has literally cornered Mary; she is in a huddled, seated position on the bed. Rossetti put a single window in the scene, but Gabriel is standing in front of it. She is closed off from the exterior; Mary has no way out—of the room and the responsibility being imposed upon her. Mary’s posture and facial expression give the impression of fear and apprehension. She looks warily at the white lily, which symbolizes Jesus Christ.

The scene, initially, appears peaceful with its primarily cool color palette. That first impression matches the conventional Christian representation of it as a time of love and happiness for Mary. However, upon second glance, the viewer notices Mary’s fear and the intrusive red line. These elements turn the painting into a scene of an unwilling woman facing a sexual threat. The conception of Christ has become an almost violent situation, which implies that Mary has been violated sexually. Ecce Ancilla Domini seems to be a sort of depiction of rape.

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