38 1/2 x 24 1/4 in. (97.8 x 61.6 cm)
Edward E. Ayer Endowment in memory of Charles L. Hutchinson, 1942.249
This relief sculpture by Venetian artist Alessandro Vittoria was commissioned in 1580 by art and science patron Hans Fugger, a member of a wealthy banking family, for his family chapel in Swabia, Germany. Vittoria’s work was inspired in its subject and composition by the painted altarpieces of the great Venetian painter Titian (1485/90–1576). Vittoria capitalized on the reflective quality of his medium by manipulating forms to catch light. The relief sculpture’s surface is highly animated: figures, drapery, and clouds seem to vibrate with movement, heightening the drama of the meeting of the Virgin and the archangel Gabriel, who announces to Mary that she will give birth to the son of God.
The startled Mary on the right turns sharply to meet the gaze of the angel. In her left hand she holds a book, (a symbol of her wisdom) while with her right hand she makes a gesture indicating her surprise. Her mantle billows in response to the arrival of Gabriel, whose wild curly hair, agitated garments, and open wings convey his swift flight from heaven. While looking intently at Mary, the angel gestures upward toward the image’s most essential element—the dove, or Holy Ghost, of the Christian Trinity, who emanates from an etched halo of light and descends between parting groups of plump putti and clouds.
Working in the lost-wax method of casting, Vittoria was able to create a relief of great depth. Some areas, such as the bottom of Gabriel’s wings, appear in low relief. The figures’ heads are in high relief, while other elements, such as the angel’s arm, were sculpted completely in the round. Vittoria’s relief is Mannerist in style, but the work, produced near the end of the 16th century, also contains aspects that foreshadow the ensuing Baroque era—particularly the figures’ swelled drapery and dramatic emotion, and the sculpture’s greater emphasis on the miraculous, supernatural elements of the event.