Untitled Document

Ivanka Demchuk’s Icon of the Annunciation

In these essays, the author often examines the interactions in art between the two halves of the Church, East and West. Within that context, we have explored the pendulum swings between icon and narrative, abstraction and naturalism, tradition and innovation. Nowhere are these themes more evident than in the Ukrainian artist Ivanka Demchuk’s icon of the Annunciation dating from 2019.

From the very start this painting breaks the conventional mold. Traditionally, Byzantine icons of the Annunciation conflate the story into a single image outside of time: the angel extends its hand in greeting, while Mary raises hers in both surprise and acceptance, and the Holy Spirit descends from above. Western artists more often explore the narrative movement of the story, choosing either the moment of greeting, of surprise, of questioning, or of acceptance. Demchuk chooses still another, the moment before the angel enters.

Mary is sitting in a dark room with only a small window above her head casting golden light onto her face. The gold is not traditional Byzantine gilding, but rather the gold of a wheat field, with a bright white sky above it. But like an icon’s gold leaf, the gold paint represents the Uncreated Light breaking into the darkness of the earthly realm, the dark gray walls enlivened only by the striped cushions and the little plant by Mary’s knee.

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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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