The commentary of the cover

And Mary Conceived Through the Holy Spirit by Michel Feuillet

Painted in Novgorod, Russia, around 1130, The Annunciation of Ustyug is of exemplary purity. Mary stands. Over her blue gown she wears the maphorion, a long red veil covering her head and shoulders. Like her, the angel holds himself perfectly erect. Following a technique called “chrysography,” his hair, the feathers of his wings, and the folds of his vestment are underscored with lines of gold. The precious metal adorning his immaterial body indicates the Divinity, of whom he is the messenger. The angel’s gesture of blessing is a sign of peace and mercy at the moment of the Annunciation of the coming of the Messiah. Christ’s initials—the Chi Ro—are represented in the form in which he holds his fingers.

At the summit of the icon figures the lower half of a sphere in which the Divinity appears in human form. Here is God the Father: clothed in white, he is seated on a throne of incandescent cherubim and surrounded by fire-red seraphim. And yet he is pictured with the features of the Son. Such an iconographic choice is based on the words of Christ himself: Whoever sees me sees the one who sent me (Jn 12:45). Enthroned at the heart of the sphere, the Father contemplates from on high the fulfillment of his will: to reclothe the human race through the abasement of his Son. As Mary spins red cloth, her hands frame the silhouette of the Child Jesus, appearing as though through her transparent womb. There, within his Mother, Jesus is fully man. At the same time, he must be shown to be fully God, which thus explains his grave, dignified, and adult manner, seated on his throne. The faithful clearly see that if the Child was conceived in the truly human womb of a real mother, he is at the same time divine, as proclaimed by his resemblance to the icon of the Father, respendent at the summit of the image


Annunciation of Ustyug (1130–1149), School of Novgorod, Tretyakov State Gallery, Moscow, Russia.

© Photo Scala, Florence.