AWOL draws attention to the British Museums interactive on-line presence. Typing Nativity into the search engine brought me to this exquisite ivory panel from 15th-century France. The whole story is there, shepherds and magi, too:And then a friend led me to a passage by Jane Kenyon on the annunciation,

Italian Renaissance painting often shows the Virgin holding her place in the book she was reading when the angel broke in upon her--a curious anachronism as the ur-Mary was unlikely to have been reading a bound book. In any case, Mary stops reading and listens to Gabriel's outlandish news. The lives of God's holy ones are subject to major interruptions. I think of Simone Martini's depiction of the Annunciation. In many paintings of the period Mary draws back from Gabriel in trepidation, but I know of no other picture in which sorrow, fear, and even belligerence appear so clearly. The corners of her mouth turn downward. Get away from me!But love was working in her, and in the faith which overturns fear she replied: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to thy word." How I love Martini's glimpse of Mary in the moments just before she brings herself to say yes.Gabriel's Truth, in A Hundred White Daffodils

Here is Simone Martinis masterpiece (1333), now in the Uffizi. Judge for yourselves:And here, courtesy of John Page, is Duccio's Annunciation of a little earlier:  

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

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