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It Speaks to Me: Bill Viola on Dieric Bouts’ ‘The Annunciation’ at the Getty Museum

April 13, 2011 | 12:15 pm

Boutsannunciation This is one of my favorite paintings in the Getty and in the world. It’s austere and subdued, both in terms of the figures in it and the light and shadow of the empty room. It’s almost Zen-like. There’s an incredible blood-red curtain in the back — I get goose bumps whenever I see it.The scene is internalized in a powerful way. Think of that beautiful Fra Angelico of ‘The Annunciation’ in San Marco in Florence, where Gabriel is walking onto the veranda and Mary is looking right at him. But here the communication is happening the way all sacred conversations happen, without eye contact and without dialogue. This stillness is what attracts me. And the subject is probably the most profound in human existence: the moment when a woman knows she’s pregnant. That’s when you go beyond Mary, Jesus and the Christian iconography and enter the universal language of mankind. This painting represents something universal and essential for our existence. Like Rumi said: “Woman is a ray of God, she is not that earthly beloved; she is creative, not created.”

—Artist Bill Viola, as told to Jori Finkel


Image: Dieric Bouts’ "The Annunciation," from about 1450-55; courtesy the J. Paul Getty Museum.