Aesthetic life is as integral to being human as building sandcastles on the beach and giving your children names. Calvin Seerveld

Mats Rehnman: Annunciation

ArtWay Visual Meditation July 11, 2021

Mats Rehnman: Annunciation

Mary’s Fecund Yes

by Victoria Emily Jones

When Mary said yes to God’s call to bear his Son into the world, she opened up a world of possibility. Her fiat (“Let it be”) can be read as an analogue to God’s (“Let there be . . .”) at the beginning of time—creation and new creation, both set into motion by a word.

In his 2001 Annunciation painting, a birthday gift for his mother, Swedish artist and storyteller Mats Rehnman shows the expansiveness, the vibrancy, the fecundity of Mary’s acceptance of the divine will. The Word takes on flesh inside her womb, and the cosmos responds in joy. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” Jesus said (John 10:10). Rehnman’s painting welcomes us into that abundance.

Gabriel and Mary form a central circle, his wings curving down to earth and the train of her dress trailing up to the heavens, connecting two realms. Around them is another ring formed by a tree on the left and a village on the right, where people stand in lit doorways. The outer ring comprises the free, frolicking movement of birds and fish, monkeys and antelope.

The circle can be interpreted as a symbol of oneness, wholeness, or eternity. Into it plunges the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, who impregnates Mary, the effects of which ripple outward.

Just as “in the beginning” God’s Spirit hovered over the primordial waters, breathing life into the world (Gen. 1:1–2), so, too, did the Spirit hover over the virgin Mary to initiate a new beginning, generating Life inside the very waters of her womb (Luke 1:35). In nine months’ time that Life would be born for the salvation of all.

Rehnman’s composition is influenced in part by traditional Swedish textile art, particularly agedyna (handwoven carriage cushions, or dowry pillows) from early nineteenth-century Scania (Skåne, Sweden). These were typically made by a betrothed young woman with her mother and sisters, for her and her new husband to sit on in their horse-drawn carriage after the wedding ceremony. The Annunciation was a common design on agedyna, stylistically distinct from other Western portrayals. The scene is duplicated—one for each seat—each encircled by a wreath topped by a blue- or green-winged Spirit-bird and surrounded by a plenitude of red flowers.

Mary’s courageous posture of surrender is instructive to us. By faith she stepped forward into God’s promises, even though doing so would make her vulnerable to false accusations and threats and would disrupt her plans for a normal family life in Nazareth. But what a generative impact her decision had! Not only in her immediate context but for all time, places and generations.

What surprising, “impossible” things might God do through us if only we say yes when he comes calling?


Mats Rehnman: Annunciation, 2001, aquarelle and acrylic.

The Annunciation, carriage cushion from Scania (Skåne), Sweden, first half of 19th century. Tapestry weave, 52 × 96.5 cm.

Mats Rehnman (b. 1954) is a professional storyteller and visual artist from Stockholm with a love of folktales and myths from different countries and religions. He travels around Sweden performing traditional and original stories for child, youth, and adult audiences on commission from cultural centers, schools, libraries, theaters, radio shows, and festivals. He also leads workshops to train teachers, librarians, writers, actors, and priests in storytelling. He is one of the founders of the international Fabula Storytelling Festival and has written and illustrated a number of children’s books.

Victoria Emily Jones lives in the Baltimore area of the United States, where she works as an editorial freelancer and blogs at, exploring ways in which the arts can stimulate renewed engagement with the Bible. She serves on the board of the faith-based arts nonprofit the Eliot Society and as art curator for the Daily Prayer Project, and she has contributed to the Visual Commentary on Scripture and the Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception. She is Assistant Editor of ArtWay.



1. ARTWAY  - We posted a number of short discussions of artworks for Sundays later this year:

→        Year B, Proper 12, The Feeding of the 5000 by John Piper

→        Year B, Proper 25 - Bartimaeus by Kees de Kort

→        Year B, Proper 26 - The Greatest Commandment by Baccio Baldini (1436-1487)

→        Year C, Advent 1 - Howard Finster: The Lord is Coming Back

→        Year C, Advent 4 - J. Pontormo and Bill Viola: Visitation and The Greeting

2. JHERONIMUS BOSCH CONFERENCE – 21 April – 23 April 2022, Jheronimus Bosch Art Center Jeroen Boschplein 2, 's-Hertogenbosch: Defining boundaries: Jheronimus Bosch, his workshop, and his followers. After hosting similar meetings in 2001, 2007, 2012, and 2016, the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, will organize a fifth conference on April 21-23, 2022: Separate sessions will be organized around individual works and copies after those paintings, among which the Temptations of Saint Anthony in Lisbon and the Last Judgement in Vienna. A third topic will be the Carrying of the Cross in Ghent and related scenes of the Passion in Princeton and Amsterdam. More details and a formal call for papers will go out after the summer, but our aim is to welcome attendees in person to the historical city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

3. CLASSICAL REFORMATIONS: BEYOND CHRISTIAN HUMANISM - 2 September – 3 September, from 2 September 13.45 h, The Wartburg Institute, online: Classical Reformations: Beyond Christian Humanism. Christian humanism has dominated the story of classical reception in Reformation Europe, as the first Erasmian generation of reformers retooled classical texts to Christian ends. Yet the utility of the classical tradition to later generations of reformers has been largely overlooked by modern scholarship. We propose that as the Reformation evolved, the influence of classical learning was as likely to flow in the other direction: that the literature and ideas of the ancient world had a formative influence on Christian politics and theology. Major Reformation figures—from Melanchthon, Sturm, Ascham, and Beza, to many of their Catholic opponents, such as Pole and Bellarmine—were scholars by day, as comfortable with Catullus as Corinthians. Their classical learning actively empowered and shaped the formulation of Christian faith during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Classical Reformations: Beyond Christian Humanism explores how the literature and ideas of the classical world calibrated early modern Christianity—its interpretation, ordinances, moral instruction, politics, theology, cultural expression, and polarizing impulses of confessionalisation. How did classical learning fill the gaps in the Lutheran rejection of Catholic doctrine?

4. THE BREHM RESIDENCY – Fuller Seminary’s Brehm Center wants you to know about The Brehm Residency, whose mission is to cultivate generative relationships between artists and ministry leaders who are mutually dedicated to the artistic renewal of communities and their churches.

5. ITALY PRINTMAKING WORKSHOP – Join Flatbed Press at La Romita in Terni, Italy for their fifth Italian Intensive Workshop. This year explores new monotype strategies including stencils, trace drawings, and layering. The residency/workshop format of the class will allow students to work at their own level in developing images and process. Students with little or no experience will feel comfortable in this course and more experienced students will continue to build on their skills and knowledge. Workshop Dates 6 September – 20 September, 2021. Find more information about the workshop. ; Join Flatbed Press for an informational Zoom meeting July 22 at 6:00 pm CT.

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc. inside and outside your country, click here 

ArtWay is a website with resources for congregations and individuals concerned about linking art and faith.


Other recent meditations:
- July 2021: William Blake: The Book of Job
- July 2021: Church of the Resurrection in Beslan, Russia
- July 2021: Rick Andrew: Church of Blue Heaven
- June 2021: Jake Flood: Reflection

For more Visual Meditations, see under Artists