In many Christian countries, March 25th (the Feast of the Annunciation), and not January 1st, once heralded the start of a new year.
The feast celebrates the Incarnation of Christ, the moment, as documented in the Gospel of Saint Luke, when Jesus became flesh and blood and entered the world. The Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, thus marking his Incarnation.
Over the centuries, the theme of the Annunciation has inspired artists to create some of their most beautiful works. In the Dominican church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva there are two images of the Annunciation, a fresco by the Florentine artist Filippino Lippi, and a painting by local boy Antoniazzo Romano, born Antonio di Benedetto Aquilo degli Aquili (c.1430 – c.1510).
In addition to a depiction of the Annunciation, Romano's painting refers to a practise which, for centuries, was a central part of the Roman calendar. The painting (c.1482), which can be found in the Cappella dell' Annunziata, depicts, in addition to God the Father, the Archangel Gabriel and Mary, four other figures. The elderly man is Cardinal Juan de Torquemada (1388-1468) and he is presenting three girls to the Virgin Mary. The Madonna is giving each girl a small bag, which contains money.
The painting was commissioned by the Arciconfraternita della Ss. Annunziata in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, a charitable body founded in 1460 by Cardinal Juan de Torquemada, uncle of the famous inquisitor Tomãs de Torquemada. The arch-confraternity's objective was to provide dowries for poor girls.
Each year twelve girls were chosen and, on the Feast of the Annunciation, the dowries would be distributed in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva by no less a figure than the pope himself.
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My name is David Lown and I am an art historian, writer and guide