Annunciation / M James IV
The Annunciation
Illuminated by the Master of James IV of Scotland, from the Spinola Hours
Flemish, Bruges and Ghent, about 1510–1520
9 1/8 x 6 1/2 in.
Ms. Ludwig IX 18, fol. 92v
Questions for Teaching

• Describe what you see happening in this illuminated scene.

• What is the relationship of the border to the miniatures? How is it different from other manuscript pages you have seen?

• Look for all of the places you see angels in this image. How does the artist use the angels to link the border to the miniature in this image?

• What do you see happening inside the house? If you could listen to the conversation between the angel and the woman in blue, what do you think they might be saying?

• What is the woman in blue kneeling in front of? (She is kneeling before a low stand called a prie dieu, which is French for "pray to God," and there is an open book of hours, a book of daily prayers, in front of her.)

• Do you think this is what the scene would have looked like in the time of Christ, 4 B.C. to 30 A.D.? If not, how do you think it would have looked? What do you think buildings looked like in the time of Christ? How did people dress?

• While the image refers to a story from the time of Christ, about 1 B.C., its setting is actually the 1500s. Why do you think the artist chose to portray this scene in a contemporary setting?

• How would the Annunciation look if you were to set the story in today's world? What contemporary objects might you include in the scene?

Background Information

In The Annunciation from the Spinola Hours, the illuminator combined the pictorial space of the miniature and border by representing an interior in the miniature and the exterior of the same building in the border. To make the continuity between the interior and exterior clear, he offers the suggestion of a figure entering the house from the middle left border, while other figures appear to have just passed from the outdoors to the interior of the house.

This is a scene from the book of Luke in the Bible. In the upper left corner the clouds have parted to reveal the angel Gabriel, wearing a golden cope (a religious garment like a cape) fringed with green, receiving instructions from God to go to earth and announce the news to Mary that she will give birth to the Christ child. Below are a walled city and a gate in which we see an angel dressed in pink passing through. In the lower portion of the border an angel is picking lilies (a symbol of Mary's purity) and placing them in a fold of his cope while another looks on. On the steps of the house we see another angel, again clad in pink, passing indoors and leading us to the annunciation scene.

Inside the house a host of angels accompanies Gabriel as he brings the news to Mary. Mary is kneeling with her hands crossed in front of her before a low stand, called a prie dieu. She looks as if she was interrupted while reading from a book of hours. Behind her is a cabinet with vessels, and on top we see the lily again in a vase. The door in the back of the house opens onto a bedroom. The angel Gabriel is telling Mary that she will be the mother of the Son of God. The Annunciation is a story that historically would have taken place about 1 B.C., but the artist has set the scene in a contemporary setting. He brought it up to date to remind the viewer that this was still a relevant story, not just an event from the past. The building is decorated in the Gothic style, and other elements such as the bed in the background, and the prie dieu, would have been recognizable as contemporary objects to a 16th-century audience.

The book was undoubtedly commissioned for a wealthy patron, perhaps Margaret of Austria (1480–1530, daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor), for whom the artist produced other works. By the 1700s the book belonged to the Spinola family in Genoa, from whom it takes its modern name.

About the Artist

Named for a remarkable portrait of the monarch James IV of Scotland in a devotional manuscript, the Master of James IV of Scotland was one of the finest Flemish illuminators active in the years around 1500. Over a period of more than 40 years, the artist contributed to some of the most lavish and important manuscripts of the era, in addition to directing an active workshop.

The illuminator's miniatures are populated by robust, unidealized figures that are set into colorful landscapes or detailed, convincing interiors. The Master of James IV had a flair for narrative unequalled at the time, often incorporating relatively obscure biblical imagery into devotional books or creating vivid scenes of daily life for calendar illuminations. The artist's key innovation lay in the conception of page layout. Experimenting with a variety of illusionistic elements, the illuminator developed the relationship between miniature and border to an enchanting extreme, often blurring the boundaries between the two or using the distinctions between them to advance the narrative.

Several pieces of circumstantial evidence, including the fact the illuminator is known to have also executed several large-scale paintings on wood panels, suggest that the Master of James IV may be the famed artist Gerard Horenbout.