'Ecce Ancilla Domini!', Dante Gabriel Rossetti

A male angel approaches a seated young woman, both have halos

Oil on canvas, painted 1849-50, 72.4 x 41.9cm, Tate. Purchased 1886

'Ecce Ancilla Domini' is Latin for 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord', the words spoken by Mary to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. The Angel appears before the Virgin Mary to tell her that she is with child and that her child is the Son of God.

Rossetti includes the traditional symbols, the lily for purity and the dove for the Holy Spirit, but rejects the sweetness usually associated with the Annunciation. The Angel Gabriel has no wings but hovers above the floor with flames at his feet. He points a lily at Mary's womb. Mary is dishevelled after waking and shrinks back on the bed, staring at the lily stem, afraid.

The colour scheme is restricted to white and the three primary colours. The meaning of the colour is symbolic - white for purity, blue for the Virgin, red for Christ's Passion and yellow or gold for holiness.