Temple Gallery

Established 1959

Royal Doors with the Annunciation - exhibited at the Temple Gallery, specialists in Russian icons

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PP023. Royal Doors

16th century
Panels (fused together) 122 x 79 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial
Inscription: O Evangelismos, Meter Theou

Provenance:  Private collection Paris

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The origins of icons depicting the Annunciation date from the third century. One fresco of the subject, in the Roman catacomb of Priscilla, is thought to be second century.[See footnote 1] The imagery is based partly on Luke (1:26-38) and the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James (11:1-3), which dates from the second century.[See footnote 2] This document was the source throughout the Middle Ages for much of the imagery associated with Mary, both in the East and West. According to this apocryphal tradition, Mary was one of seven virgins set to spin wool. For each a different colour was chosen by lot and that of royal purple fell to Mary. It is said that this was the skein of wool that would become the cloth that covers the Holy of Holies in the Temple and which would be 'rent in twain' at the Crucifixion.

In the classic iconography the above elements come together into a single scene. Gabriel, on the left of the image, blesses Mary with his right hand, while Mary responds with her head bowed in a gesture of acceptance, recalling the scriptural verse that has become known as Mary's fiat (Latin: 'let it be done'): 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.' This is understood as the exact moment when the Father pours the Holy Spirit into the Virgin's womb, represented in icons by the beam that radiates from the divine sphere onto Mary. The Virgin also holds the skein of purple wool that was mentioned in the apocryphal text. In our version the artist has, unusually, painted the skein of wool in gold, rather than purple.

Annunciation, Macedonian, 1608. Museum of Macedonia, Skopje

Annunciation, Macedonian, Late 16th c. Museum of Macedonia, Skopje[See footnote 3]

The arabesque pattern on the borders are close to two pairs of Royal Doors both in the Museum of Macedonia, Skopje. The 1608 example has the figures of Kings David and Solomon in common with No 24.[See footnote 4]

The Temple Gallery Doors are by a more accomplished artist than the cited examples; the composition is more harmonious and the dynamic tension between the figures adds intelligence and meaning bringing the traditional form to life. This may suggest a date not later than the middle of the 16th century.

The architecture is notable in that in most versions the Church is cubic, while here we find multiple domes set on drums recalling a well-known Byzantine miniature of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (see image below).

12th Century Byzantine Manuscript

Alternatively, a Byzantine church, familiar to the artist, that would have been in a similar style to the Holy Sepulchre (see example below). This domed style of architecture was popular across medieval Slavic countries, especially Macedonia.

The five-domed, 11th century Byzantine church at Peristerona [See footnote 5]

The original use of this icon was for the Holy Doors on an iconostasis.

1. See also: 1. Kazhdan, ed., Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, OUP 1991, vol. I, p. 106. 2. Ouspensky and Lossky, The Meaning of Icons, Olten 1952 (reprinted SVSP, 1982) p. 172.
2. The Protoevangelium of James, also sometimes known as the Gospel of James or the Infancy Gospel of James, is generally dated to the 2nd century AD. It is an apocryphal gospel that was widely read but never accepted into the New Testament Canon. See Robert J. Miller, ed., The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version (Sonoma, C A: Polebridge Press 1992), pp. 373-389.
3. Published in Victorija Popovska-Korobar, Icons from the Museum of Macedonia, plate 45
4. Icon published in Victorija Popovska-Korobar, Icons from the Museum of Macedonia, (Skopje: Museum of Macedonia, 2004), plate 57. See also: Svetozar Radojcic, Iconi de Serbia e Macedonia, (Belgrade: Silvana Editoriale D'Arte, 1962), p. 81
5. Image source:

Detail Images