Simone Martini’s modern Virgin Annunciate

We’ve all heard the expression “it’s so out, it’s in” in reference to furnishings so out of fashion that they’re actually IN vogue.  In a way, this saying applies to this precious 700-year old panel.

At first glance, readers of the blog may think I’m mad … the subject and materials are sooo insufferably antique that no artist living today would remotely find producing something of this ilk to be commercial or cutting-edge … and they’re probably right, BUT that is where being sooo old is an advantage, particularly if it references our modern way of looking at and interpreting art.
This exceptionally rare and strikingly beautiful object has many things going for it.  Touchy-feely as we are today, the Virgin actually shows a lot of emotional depth immediately after learning she is pregnant.   Most women today would also find the news of the surprising conception perplexing  and frightening as depicted by the Virgin pushed against the right-hand border of the panel, her delicate hands clutching her cloak and holding her prayer book. Rather than sitting on a throne, this “modern” Virgin is seated on an embroidered pillow on the floor, more immediate and humane – a “real” young woman.  Even the punchwork along the borders and in the halo is minimalist enough to give the composition a 3-D feel and to pop the figure towards the viewer, not in the traditional symmetrical center, but off-center, a framing technique used readily in photography today.
I venture to say this noteworthy “modern” old master painting will break its estimate of US$3,000,000 – 4,000,000 at Sotheby’s New York when it is offered on 26 January (viewing 21-25 January). It deserves to because it remains so different to many of its 700-year old gold-ground colleagues and because it resonates with today’s way of understanding and experiencing life.
image credit: © Sotheby’s. Lot 8, Simone Martini, The Virgin Annunciate, tempera on panel and gold ground, 11.1/2 x 8.1/8 in | 29.2 x 20.6 cm.
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