THE ANGEL ANNOUNCING TO MARY HER APPROACHING DEATH has been rarely treated. In general, Mary is seated or standing, and the angel kneels before her, bearing the starry palm brought from Paradise. In the frescoes at Orvieto, and in the bas-relief of Orcagna, on the beautiful shrine in Or San Michele, at Florence, the angel comes flying downwards with the palm. In the next sketch, which is from a predella by Fra Filippo Lippi [in the Florence Academy], the angel
Angel announcing to the Virgin her approaching Death (Filippo Lippi)
kneels, reverently presenting a taper, which the Virgin receives with majestic grace ; St. Peter stands behind. It was the custom to place a taper in the hand of a dying person ; and as the palm is also given sometimes to the angel of the incarnation, while the taper can have but one meaning, the significance of the scene is here fixed beyond the possibility of mistake, though there is a departure from the literal details of the old legend. The predella belongs properly to the great altar-piece by Fra Filippo Lippi, now in the Louvre, and formerly in the S. Spirito at Florence. In the original composition we see the miraculous assemblage of the Apostles; Peter is entering at the door, and the others, conducted by angels, are entering the portico behind the Virgin. (In the catalogue it is called The Annunciation, which is a mistake.) On one side of this subject we have the vision of the Trinity appearing to St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, and on the other, St. Frediano turning the course of the Serchio, both of whom were Augustins, to which Order the church of the S. Spirito belongs, and these are probably the two saints (called in the French catalogue ” deux saints évêques “) who are kneeling in front of the grand picture in the Louvre. This is one of many instances in which the separation of the parts of an altar-piece becomes a source of embarrassment to the critic and antiquary. These ” deux saints évêques ” were a great vexation to me till I found the predella of the altar at Florence. There is in the Munich Gallery a curious German example of the subject [of the angel announcing to Mary her approaching death] by Hans Schaufelein.