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With the scene of the Annunciation, the chronology of the story enters the time of the New Testament This scene is not ordinarily included in the True Cross legend. Never inappropriate in cycles concerned with the theology of salvation, the Annunciation may have been required here in remembrance of the important indulgence, granted in 1298 and often renewed, awarded to all visitors who worshipped in the church on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation.
God-the-Father and the Angel
Piero has created an ingenious four-part composition that combines heaven and earth. God-the-Father carried on clouds in the upper left quadrant emits golden rays from his hands. [Very little of the gold, applied after the plaster is dry, remains on any of the frescoes.] At the same moment the Angel Gabriel alights below, in the forecourt of Mary’s house. He is silhouetted against the intricately carved doorway, which is closed, fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel (44:2; perhaps represented in the figure depicted two tiers above). Gabriel proffers not a lily but a palm frond, thus announcing not only the incarnation of Christ but also the future death and compassion of Mary herself. The palm is known as the key to paradise, lost when Eve sinned but returned when Mary died. The sin of Eva is unlocked by this key as Gabriel utters the greeting Ave, its reverse.
The Virgin Mary
Piero paints Mary as a massive figure, tall as a column (another of her epithets), of great nobility and acquiescence. Her scale and demeanor qualify her as a symbol of the Church, while her expression and grace are full of human warmth. Her house, the “Casa Santa,” is a marble-encrusted, classicizing dwelling. Through the open doorway, her thalamus or marriage-bed is visible, alluding to the Marriage of Christ and Ecclesia that is taking place at the Annunciation. In the upper right quadrant, the shadow of the tapestry bar passes through the hanging-loop, again symbolizing Mary’s unbroken virginity. More than any other scene, the Annunciation transforms medieval symbolism into a vista of the new rationally measured world of the Renaissance.