I cannot even attempt to count how many depictions of the Virgin Mary I have seen over the last few weeks here in Florence. I have a tendency to enter any open church to see what is inside, and yes there is most likely a depiction of Mary or two or five or twenty depictions. The same applies to nearly any of the major museums in Florence. So it is tough for me to still get as excited about a portrayal of Mary as the importance of the art piece or the talent of the artist really deserves.Many of the depictions also seem to become very similar after viewing a few (at least for me) – a lot of golden halos and background.
It is thus easy to start to quickly glance at these pieces and consider them as just another version of a similar piece. However, I have realized that I can still get excited about seeing another depiction of Mary when I start focusing and comparing details. One of the details that stands out to me are the angels’ wings. I am fascinated by the variety in color and the unexpected (at least for me) color combination.
Who knew that angels would have striped wings in vibrant hues of blue, red, and even black. Some painters also include intricate patterns in gold on the individual feathers of the wings. And since Italian museums do allow one to get pretty close to even the most important pieces, it is fascinating to observe the smallest details, and often without the big crowds of the visitors, who focus on the more famous pieces such as Michelangelo’s David or Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.
Once I started paying attention to the intricate details of the angels’ wings (I am fascinated by the gold swirls in the wings in the painting below), I also noticed additional details such as the elegant folds of a dress and the intricate gold border or the colorful background behind an angel.
Now, when I see a painting of a Virgin (and especially when the theme is the Annunciation), I get excited and look for the wings of the angels to see what color combination and pattern the artist has decided on. With this focus over the last few weeks here in Florence, I have also learned that I especially like the wings painted by Lorenzo Monaco, Lorenzo the Monk. Who would have thought that I have a favorite painter when it comes to angels’ wings!? So if someone ever asks me about my favorite painter of wings, and in particular of angels’ wings, I have a definite and well-researched answer.