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An angel is announcing to Mary that she will give birth to the Christ child. She appears to be recoiling as if disturbed from sleep. This is a radical reinterpretation of the subject. Traditionally the Virgin was depicted in studious contemplation. Dante Gabriel Rossetti rejected the tradition of representing the Virgin passively receiving the news. Instead he wanted the picture to have a supernatural realism. White is the dominant colour here, symbolising the idea of feminine purity. This is reinforced by the lily embroidery – the same one the Virgin is shown working on in Rossetti’s painting of The Girlhood of Mary Virgin.

May 2011