This painting intends to illustrate this passage from the Gospel of Luke:
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”Let's stop here because the painting is intended to show Mary just as the Angel Gabriel arrives. As most probably know, the passage goes on to have the angel tell Mary that, despite her virginity, she "will conceive and give birth to a son, and [she is] to call him Jesus." The passage contains Luke's patented "do not be afraid" admonition, and concludes with Mary's declaration that she is “the Lord’s servant,” and her prayer, “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Luke 1:26-38.
So here is what I love about this painting. First, it shows Mary reading a book and older than I think I see her sometimes. I like the idea of her having her wits about her and not being just an empty vessel to be filled by God, so to speak. Second, I love the realism of her expression, and I get the notion that the angel is over her shoulder, and not as the commentaries I have read on-line suggest, directly in front of her. I don't think the viewer is in the place of Gabriel; I think she is looking off or not really looking anywhere like a person does when trying to listen closely. Finally, I love the quiet intimacy the piece conveys. I've come back to this several times and just found it to be really moving.