The Annunciation is a pair of finely carved marble sculptures depicting the moment that the archangel Gabriel announces to Mary at Nazareth that she will become the mother of Jesus. The separate figures are carved in the round in highly polished white marble, highlighted with gilded decoration, especially on the draperies. Gabriel is slightly smaller than the Virgin and looks at her, his head turned slightly to his left, his right knee bent underneath his tunic. The locks of his hair and the folds of his tunic flow backward, evoking his sudden arrival. Mary, seemingly surprised, returns his gaze, her head slightly turned toward her right. She rests on her right leg, bending the left knee, while she gathers the tail of her long cloak.
In 2005, the approximately 30-inch tall sculptures were identified as the largest sculptural elements preserved from a chapel erected in the now-lost papal fortress in Bologna, the Rocca di Porta Galliera. This chapel, commissioned for Pope John XXII in the early 1330s, was decorated with marble sculptures carved by Giovanni di Balduccio and frescoes (now lost) and an altarpiece both painted by Giotto. The chapel was destroyed shortly after the Papal Legate was expelled from the city in March 1334, and its artworks were dispersed.
“These are stupendous sculptures of the highest quality created by one of the most important Italian Gothic sculptors for a prestigious papal chapel,” explains Anne-Lise Desmas, senior curator of sculpture and decorative arts at the Getty Museum. “This well-documented and exceptionally preserved work of art by a major master of the Trecento [14th century] will stand out in our collection of Medieval sculpture for its ambitious composition, elegant figures, and refined carving.”
Giovanni di Balduccio (Italian, active about 1317-1349) was one of the greatest Gothic Italian sculptors of the first half of the Trecento, active in Pisa, Florence, Bologna, and Milan. The Annunciation is the first work by the artist to enter the Getty Museum’s collection; the only other work by him in an American collection is a Virgin and Child—also made for the same Bolognese chapel—now in the Detroit Institute of Arts.
The Annunciation will go on view at the Getty Center in December 2019. Its installation will be timed with the exhibition, Acquisitions 2019: Director’s Choice, which will feature recent museum acquisitions and will be on view at the Getty Museum December 10, 2019, to March 1, 2020.