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The Annunciation

  • Object:

    Relief

  • Place of origin:

    Genoa (city) (made)

  • Date:

    1450-1500 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Gagini, Giovanni (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Slate carved in relief

  • Museum number:

    7254-1861

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 50a, The Paul and Jill Ruddock Gallery, case WS

This slate relief would originally have been placed above an exterior doorway in Genoa. During the 1400s and 1500s sculpted doorways in slate were popular adornments in that city. Here the Annunciation is flanked by two putti bearing shields which originally displayed the arms of the owner of the house.

Physical description

This slate lintel-relief depicts the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel faces the Virgin Mary across a lectern placed on a small desk. Gabriel holds lilies in his left hand while he blesses the Virgin with his right. A scroll with the inscription AVE GRATIA is above the lilies, above that is the dove of the Holy Spirit. The scene is flanked by two putti holding shields with the charges effaced.

Place of Origin

Genoa (city) (made)

Date

1450-1500 (made)

Artist/maker

Gagini, Giovanni (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Slate carved in relief

Marks and inscriptions

AVE GRATIA
HAIL (FULL OF) GRACE

Dimensions

Height: 45.7 cm, Width: 114 cm, Depth: 6 cm, Weight: 44 kg

Object history note

The relief was purchased in Genoa for £10.

Historical significance: This relief is typical of “sopraporte” (or lintels above doorways) in fifteenth-century Genoa. Like the theme of St George killing the dragon , (see 7255-1861 and 7256-1861), the Annunciation was a popular subject, being found in fourteen extant reliefs in Genoa. It was probably featured in more examples now lost. Three examples (in addition to the V&A relief) are known in Paris, Seattle and Trapani. (Kruft, 1978, 32). Though Pope-Hennessy noted that “in execution the relief is somewhat different from 7255-1861 and 7256-1861, and may originate from another shop than that of Giovanni Gaggini…,” Gaggini’s influence was wide-reaching in Genoa, and his work seems to have inspired aspects of this relief such as the shield-bearing putti flanking the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. Pope-Hennessy also noted the similarities between the V&A relief and the Annunciation found over the door of Santa Maria di Castello in Genoa.
Profumo’s suggestion that the use of the Annunciation theme was a direct reaction to the archbishop’s opposition to the installation of the Dominican order at Santa Maria di Castello in 1442, does not seem tenable due to lack of documentation, notwithstanding that order's devotion to the Virgin Mary (Profumo, 54).

Historical context note

Decorated door jambs and lintels were a common feature of Genoese architecture. As noted by R. Lightbown, their development was a result of the "…topography of the old city" in which tall houses were built on steep streets, thus leaving the doorway as the most visible area for display of wealth or family identification. (Lightbown, p.412).
Rectangular carved lintels surmounted the doorways of palazzi, and the Annunciation was a popular theme for the lintel. Often a square projection with the monogram of Christ would be found above such lintels.

The use of slate was typical in Genoa. It has high tensile strength and a high degree of water and fire resistance. These qualities, and its natural abundance in Liguria (the region of Genoa) made the city's preferred material for roof tiles, chimneys, doorways and floors.

Giovanni Gaggini or his workshop may have carved this relief based on similarities with a relief over the doorway of Palazzo Quartara in Genoa (Pope-Hennessy, 389). There is some confusion surrounding that artist resulting from interpretations of documents from Genoa in the 1460s. Kruft, based on Cervetto, suggested that there were two men named Giovanni Gaggini, (alternatively spelled "Gagini") originally a Lombard family, working in Genoa during the same time. This was based on documents transcribed by Cervetto which seemingly referred to two sculptors, one named Giovanni Gaggini d'Andrea da Campione, who had a workshop in Genoa, and one called Giovanni Gaggini the son of Magister Beltrame, who came from Bissone (Cervetto, 137 and Kruft, 15). Bissone and Campione (today Campione d'Italia) are two towns very close to each other on the shore of Lake Lugano (in today's Switzerland). Until the 15th century, Bissone was under the rule of the Dukes of Milan, while Campione has remained Italian.

Algeri suggested in 1977 that further research might reveal that Giovanni Gaggini da Campione and Giovanni Gaggini da Bissone were the same person, as a 1475 document published by both Alizeri and Cervetto made reference to a Giovanni da Beltrame from Campione who worked with Michele d'Aria for the Spinola family (doorway 222-1879 was a Spinola commission). She also noted that documents published by Cervetto regarding the location of the Gaggini shops locate them in the same area of Genoa and might provide further evidence for believing they are the same person. However, it does not appear that any further research on this branch of the Gaggini family has been done, and therefore identification remains speculative.

Descriptive line

Panel in relief, black slate, of the Annunciation, in the style of Giovanni Gaggini, second half 15th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Cervetto, L. A. I Gaggini da Bissone. Loro Opere in Genova e Altrove, Milan, 1903.
Hasluck, F. W., "Genoese lintel-reliefs in Chios," Burlington Magazine, xviii, 1910-11, p.329-330, plate II.
Maclagan, E. And Longhurst, M., Catalogue of Italian Sculpture, London, 1932, p. 121
Lightbown, R. "Three Genoese Doorways," Burlington Magazine, ciii, 1961, pp.412-17.
Pope-Hennessy, J. assisted by Lightbown, R. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1964, p. 390,1
Kruft, Hanno-Walter,Portali Genovesi del Rinascimento, Florence, 1971.
Kruft, Hanno-Walter, "Alcuni Portali Genovesi del Rinascimento fuori Genova," Antichità Viva, xvii/6 Nov./Dec 1978, 31-35.
Algeri, Giuliana, "La scultura a Genova tra il 1450 e il 1470: Leonardo Riccomano, Giovanni Gagini, Michele d'Aria," Studi di Storia delle Arti, Università di Genova, 1977, pp. 65-78.
Profumo, Luciana Müller, Le pietre parlanti: L'ornamento nell'architettura genovese 1450-1600, Genova, 1993, 55-56.
Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1861 In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 26

Materials

Slate

Techniques

Carving; Relief

Subjects depicted

Lilies; Dove; Lecterns; Scrolls (motifs); Shield; Flowers; Escutcheons (coats of arms)

Categories

Christianity; Religion; Sculpture

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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