The Annunciation generally includes two figures – Mary and the winged angel, Gabriel.
Carlo Crivelli, an Italian Renaissance painter, had a different idea when he used artistic adaptation in “The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius.”
Who is Saint Emidius? you may ask, as I did when saw a third figure of a man in deep discussion with Gabriel.
Carlo Crivelli gave a nod to history when he included Saint Emidius, a Christian bishop who lived c. 279 – c. 309 AD, during the time of Diocletian. Legend has it that Saint Emidius exchanged his pagan beliefs for Christianity, left his home of Trier, a city in Germany on the banks of the Moselle, and set off to Rome where he became renowned for his healing abilities. Many believed he was the son of Apollo and transported him, against his will, to the Temple of Aesculapius (Greek hero and god of medicine) on the island in the Tiber. Saint Emidius continued to heal the sick. At the same time, he destroyed pagan alters and converted many to Christianity, which made him extremely unpopular with city officials, a foreshadowing of what was to come.
Saint Emidius was made a bishop by Pope Marcellus I, and was sent to Ascoli Piceno, a town and commune located in the Marche region of Italy. Along the journey, there was a fateful meeting with a local governor, Polymius, who made every attempt to persuade Saint Emidius to worship Jupiter and the goddess Angaria, the patroness of Ascoli, including offering his daughter, Polisia, to him in marriage Instead of a wedding ceremony, Polisia was baptized as a Christian, which led to Saint Emidius’s martyrdom.
“The Annunciation, with Saint Emidius” was originally created as an altarpiece for Ascoli Piceno’s Church of SS. Annunziata to celebrate the granting of self-government, in the year 1482 to Ascoli Piceno by Pope Sixtus IV. As their patron saint, Saint Emidius, was given a role in the Annunciation. Positioned beside the angel, Gabriel, Saint Emidius holds a model of the town he watches over. There is an earnest reverence in his demeanour.
The symbolism captured within the painting provides something for everyone to enjoy. For example, The National Gallery’s podcast by Gillian Riley, explores the food on display: cucumber and apple in the foreground, and the books and fruit located on the shelf above her Mary’s bed. The light coming from the heavens represents the Holy Spirit, the flask of pure water conveys Mary’s purity and the peacock suggests immortality
Carlo Crivelli’s Annunciation reminds us that spirituality contains many stories, unique to the experiences of time, location, and social interaction. He is a storyteller who instilled within the colours, figures and symbols, a profound and lasting significance. While we view this painting via the lens of our century, the narrative comes through with a vibrancy that captures our imagination. A city in celebration and transition, an artist who recognized the tradition that came from a historical event, an artwork that reflects the hopes, dreams and beliefs of a people – these are themes that resonate within the larger narrative of humanity.