A Thousand Words
Henry Ossawa Tanner's Annunciation
by Mary Elizabeth Podles
This is no conventional Annunciation, with a winged, white-nightied angel and richly robed, serene Madonna. Instead, Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859–1937) gives us a frowning, barefoot Middle Eastern teenager and a shaft of brilliant light, a startling innovation but an image no less profound than any traditional version of the same subject. A most unusual composition, it was brought about by an extraordinary confluence of events and persons.
Of central interest is the painter, Henry Ossawa Tanner. He was the son of a bishop in the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church, and showed an early interest in and talent for art. His father, wishing to discourage Henry from a difficult career, set . . .
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Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.
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