The Annunciation, in Lviv

And closer to home

In 2019 I went to Lviv, which no longer needs to be explained as a city in Ukraine. I was there to write a travel story, of the sort aimed at tourists.

There was so much I liked about the place, and a couple of things I really disliked – specifically, expressions of casual antisemitism by someone I spent time with. It’s been weighing on my mind that I never wrote up my trip – well, that’s why.

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One thing that has haunted me is the memory of a painting inside the Armenian Cathedral. It’s a version of The Annunciation (in which the angel Gabriel tells Mary she is to conceive the son of God).

As you see, the artist painted into that scene a foreshadowing, in the background, of what was to come for the as-yet-unborn child.

Since Ukraine’s invasion, I have been mildly obsessed by the idea that my own visit to the cathedral with a young woman tour guide likewise carried a kind of threat in the background, unseen by us (me, anyway) at the time.

This picture is my awkward attempt to show that.

In the original, I drew myself standing on the right, so that the picture of the Annunciation and the tank outside the cathedral were framed by me and the tour guide (I’m sorry I forget her name). In the event, I decided to cut myself out; but here’s what that earlier version looked like:


And here’s a print:

AF672F4B-16F7-420D-9B94-C45EB0360726.jpeg

It’s Lady Day today

Update: 25 March 2022

I didn’t know until yesterday that the Feast of the Annunciation had this other name. I like it. And it gives me a pretext to share some related images, nothing to do with Ukraine.

In the last three years (or so) I’ve come to love the story of Mary being visited by the Angel Gabriel, being told that she was to bear the son of God, and (this bit’s very important) willingly accepting all that entails.

I’ve drawn it many times, always looking for different ways to “see” it.

During lockdown, I drew a variety of Biblical stories into the streets around me, using screenshots from Google Streetview. Here’s one, in which Gabriel finds Mary reading at the front of an estate off Cricklewood Lane:

Just to spell out the obvious: this shows a very early moment in the encounter, when Mary hasn’t even noticed Gabriel. Many artists tend to focus on her (marginally later) puzzlement at what she is told, or else on her gracious acceptance.

I’ve also painted it. Here’s the framed painting going up at a friend’s home:

Only now do I notice that I’ve pictured it again just before Mary noticed Gabriel.

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I have tried many times to understand what the story means for me – why I find it so consoling. One way to approach that understanding is to sketch a version of myself in the act of contemplating images of the Annunciation – as I did in that early version of the drawing from Lviv, above.

Here, I’m contemplating it in disguise as a child:

Annunciation

Alternatively, I might follow the precepts of Saint Ignatius and try to imagine myself in the scene. I don’t try to put that into words, just draw it.

Here, I’ve done that in disguise as a man without spectacles, wearing some kind of sarong:

annunciation with JPF.jpg

Sarong? I don’t remember why. Perhaps it was an attempt at Biblical-era clothing?

Postscript: Just after pressing “save”, I received an email reminding me that it’s Mothering Sunday this weekend. Only now has it dawned on me that the two events must (surely) be related – doh!


Thank you for reading / looking.

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