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Nachrichten aus Nürnberg: The Annunciation as an Epistolary Address

Shira Brisman

Published online:

01 Jul 2016



When, around the turn of the fifteenth century, the art of northern Europe developed a pictorial motif whereby an angel delivers the news of the Incarnation in the form of a sealed document, the material properties of ink and wax metaphorically evoked the unique properties of the inscription of divine form upon Mary’s virginal body. The social impact of this communication, the dissemination of the message to a community of recipients, could be strengthened by references to the re-transmittable nature of the announcement, as enforced by other indicators of sociability detectable in different portions of the narrative scheme. The Tucher Altarpiece in Nuremberg and Michael Wolgemut’s altarpiece for the cathedral of St. Mary in Zwickau present two examples of uses of the epistolary Annunciation that may have influenced Albrecht Dürer, who employs the motif in his woodcut series The Life of the Virgin, which also contains, along with this pictorial form of broad address, more narrowly articulated messages to his contemporaries in the form of written words.

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