The Annunciation Ave Maria on the cover of this issue, is an illumination by Daniel Mitsui, an artist and illustrator who lives in Chicago. Our cover is a reproduction of his ink drawing on Bristol board, using fine-tipped pen, colored inks applied with brushes, and 23k gold leaf.
The central Annunciation scene is based on two famous illuminated manuscripts by the Limbourg brothers: the Très Riches Heures and the Belles Heures, both made for the Duke of Berry in the early 15th century. Details borrowed from these manuscripts include the Blessed Virgin’s Gothic reading desk topped with a carved figure of Moses, and the dalmatic the Archangel Gabriel wears. (The dalmatic is the vestment worn by the deacon at Mass. In the art of this period angels were usually depicted in the liturgical vestments of a deacon, sub-deacon, or acolytes, to indicate their service to the Priest, Jesus.)
The text, written in blackletter, reads:
Ave Maria, gratia plena. Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris tui Iesus.
Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.
The drawing is formatted like a recto leaf from an illuminated manuscript. The roundels in the border depict events that are theologically linked to the Annunciation.
The Temptation of Eve is shown to indicate that the Ave of Mary is the undoing (the reverse) of the disobedience of Eva.
The Burning Bush (Ex 3), the Flowering of Aaron’s Rod (Num 7:8-10), and the Miracle of Gideon’s Fleece (Judg 6:36-40) are Old Testament prefigurations of the Virginal Conception, according to the 12th-century priest and theologian Honorius of Autun, who wrote in Speculum Ecclesiae:
Moses saw a burning bush that the flames could not consume, and in the midst of it God appeared. Herein is a figure of the Holy Virgin; for never burning with the fire of concupiscence she yet received within her the flame of the Holy Spirit...
At God’s command Aaron placed a dry rod in the Ark of the Covenant, and on the day following the stick budded and bore flowers and fruit. The sterile branch bearing fruit is the Virgin Mary who brought into the world Jesus Christ, at once God and man...
Gideon, a judge in Israel, spread a fleece on the threshing floor and on it the dew of heaven descended, yet the floor around it remained dry. The fleece on which fell the dew is the virgin Mother; the floor is her virginity, which suffered no hurt.
Decorative elements in the border are sea kelp, chambered nautili, starfish, anemone, and sand dollars. Some of these have special Marian significance. Starfish refer to the Blessed Virgin’s title Maris Stella, or Star of the Sea. Chambered nautili are ancient symbols of perfection. When a sand dollar is broken open, its five teeth resemble doves, symbols of the Holy Ghost.
Daniel Mitsui’s artwork can be seen on his website: danielmitsui.com.
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