The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner, American, 1859 – 1937 Oil on canvas, 57×71 ¼” Philadelphia Museum of Art


Tanner was the son of a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He often painted religious subjects. This unconventional image of the moment the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will bear the Son of God is beautiful in its simplicity. Mary is pictured as an adolescent dressed in rumpled Middle Eastern peasant clothing. No halo or other visual signs of holiness are present. Yet the spiritual component to the composition is undeniable. This is the moment of Mary’s at fiat or “yes” to her new reality. The Angel Gabriel appears as a shaft of light, light representing God’s glory, the message of good news and HOPE.


In prayer discuss these Reflection Questions with God.
  • What is your overall impression of this painting?
  • How is it like and different than other depictions of the Annunciation?
  • What interests, disturbs or inspires you about this scene?
  • What does Mary’s body language tell you about Honesty and Openness?
  • Recalling that the first words the Angels speaks to Mary is “Fear Not”, what does fear have to do with Openness?
  • Why is the Angel Gabriel depicted as light?
  • Who has been a light or messenger of love to you? Thank God for these people.
  • How are you called to be light or a messenger of love to others? How will you express this?
  • What one action will you take to be an angel, light, or messenger of love for another person? Take the action.