The New Eve
I used to know an Anglo-Indian girl who didn't like eating apples because she thought they were the actual fruit Adam and Eve had been forbidden by God Himself to eat.
No matter how much I tried to explain that:
a) the use of apples in the artistic depiction of Eden is more due to a Latin pun (malus/sin and malum/apple) than to any ancient tradition . . .
. . . and . . .
b) even if apples were the forbidden fruit, any Catholic theologian in the world would say that it is all right to eat them now (though the explanation would vary according to each theologian's style) . . .
. . . she was determined never to eat apples or anything made from apples, or even drink apple juice, as a matter of moral discipline.
I thought of her this evening when I bought a whole litre of apple juice to go with my one-woman celebratory dinner for today's Solemnity of the Annuciation. For it is all right now. The New Adam and the New Eve have made it all right.
The lilies, which symbolise Mary's purity, may be in between the Heaven half and the earth half of this relief, but they are not a divider. On the contrary, they seem like a marker--a kind of landmark for orienting someone who needs directions. It was as if all of Heaven had been waiting for those lilies to be in full bloom. The Annunciation, and therefore, the Incarnation, happened at just the right time.
What about this painting don't I love? Every time I look at it, I see something new. This time around, my eyes are drawn to the blue cloth. Mary's traditional colours are blue and white, but she isn't wearing the blue in this painting. And I think of the eternal split-second before she spoke Fiat.
And this is perhaps the best depiction of the Annunciation from our own age. Other artists have painted Mary in "modern dress"--but the effect has been lost on us because those masterpieces are hundreds of years old themselves. But Collier's teenage Mary looks like she could be one of my high school students. (And just look at those "landmark lilies" again!)
Image Sources: a) By Andrea della Robbia, b) By Dante Gabriel Rossetti, c) By John Collier