Florence is awash with beautiful images of the Annunciation and one of the finest is the work of the artist-cum-Carmelite friar, Fra Filippo Lippi (1406-69), one of the city's own sons. The painting (undated and undocumented) can be found in the Martelli Chapel (Cappella Martelli) in the church of San Lorenzo.
Lippi's depiction of the theme is somewhat unusual in that the painting is divided into two distinct parts, with Mary and Gabriel in one half, while the other half is occupied by two angels. One of the angels turns and faces the spectator, while gesturing to the adjacent scene. It is difficult to explain the presence of the two additional angels, as accounts of the Annunciation refer only to the Archangel Gabriel.
The altarpiece is actually made up of two separate panels, which do not quite line up. This fact has led some scholars to conclude that the painting was originally a pair of movable organ shutters, which were later reconfigured as a pala d'altare (altarpiece).
The painting is full of symbols. The glass carafe in the foreground, for instance, represents Mary's purity in its transparency and her role as the vessel of the Incarnation of Christ. And just as light can pass through glass without damaging the material, so a child was implanted in Mary without damaging her virginity.
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