This semester in Writing in the Humanities, a writing course for college-one seminarians, the students wrote two essays about the mosaic of the Annunciation, which is located in the building of Annunciation at Mount Angel Seminary. In the first essay, the students described the mosaic, and in the second essay they drew a larger theme from their descriptions.
Several of these essays will be shared on the MAS journalism blog, beginning with the essay below by Brother Marinus Kim, OSB. His essay is from the first assignment, a description of the mosaic of the Annunciation.
The Annunciation Moasic
by Brother Marinus Kim, OSB
When I entered Mount Angel Seminary as a seminarian, I found there are seven buildings. The buildings are arranged on four sides like rectangle with the grass plot in the center. Among them, Annunciation is located in the northwest. As I enter the main entrance, I can see the Annunciation mosaic on the left side wall. There will be a surprise because it is big, bright, colorful and is made of tile material. As every painting needs a norm to understand it, I cannot separate well-formed composition, bright and intensive color, and identification in the story of this mosaic.
First, a composition holds the ideas together. The mosaic features have three main components. The Archangel Gabriel stands on the left, Mary stands in the gate of the red roof building on the right, and a half circle is located at the top of the center that includes the sky with clouds, a dove, and the scripture on the chair. The basic construct of the mosaic looks like two pillars to support the kingdom of heaven.
The messenger holds a scroll in his left hand, and Mary is holding a thread with a spool hanging down her arms. The right hand of Gabriel is pointing to Mary's face with two fingers. The two pillars have the same size to express the same values. Their faces lift up to the half circle of the top, especially the dove that is the Holy Spirit. The dove stands on the Bible that is located on the red chair. The structure of the Annunciation mosaic expresses to create a visual pleasure. With all these components, there are many impressive colors, too.
Second, I will mention the color decisions for the mosaic: they are bright, intense, and pure. Mary wears deep red and light purple, and the angel's robe is a light green and white. These two images give a very strong impression when I look for the first time because most of the colors used are primary colors. Red is used in several places as the majority color: the frame mark on the rectangle, Mary's robe and the building's roof, and the chair in the heavens.
According to the meaning of color in iconography, red is know as the color of the earth, of blood and sacrifice, and also the color of royalty. Unlike red, blue has the color of the heavens and of divinity and purity, the state of being without sin and of being the chosen one. So this mosaic uses it in two places: the sky that is in the center of the half circle and the angel's wings.
The third color is a white that means the color of transfiguration and the color of the robes of those who do justice. I can see it in the clouds, in the angel's robe and the dove. Another major color is a gold. It symbolizes divine light. Most of iconography uses it on the background or applies it to persons or objects like this mosaic. With these impressions, we can imagine a story.
Third, we can easily acknowledge the story from the Bible about Mary and the angel as soon as we see the mosaic. According to the Gospel of Luke, the Archangel Gabriel was sent by God to tell Mary, who lives in Nazareth, a town in Galilee, this message: the Virgin will conceive the Son of God. When she heard the birth news, she was engaged to Joseph already. However, she doesn't have fear and obeys God's will. Her face is calm and there is no surprise in it. She is silently following what the angel tells her. Mary's hands are open and pull down to hold the spool to respect the angel.
On the other hand, the angel's left hand holds a scroll to show the divine origin of his visit and the authority that he was sent by God. A forefinger on the right hand is directed at Mary, as he is probably telling here that she is blessed and will give birth to the child. It looks as if the scene might not use words for speaking but is addressing Mary's heart. Furthermore, the half circle of the top includes a dove that represents the Holy Spirit, the blue sky that represents heaven, and the Bible on the red chair that shows this event achieved by the prophecy.
In conclusion, as we can see above, I cannot separate composition, color, and identification when I enjoy the mosaic. They are distinct from one another but not disparate from one another. So, the good harmony of these elements will give more inspiration to us because we can easily imagine the story.