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Rehnman, Mats - VM - Victoria Emily Jones

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?

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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. https://matsrehnman.myportfolio.com/

Victoria Emily Jones lives in the Baltimore area of the United States, where she works as an editorial freelancer and blogs at ArtandTheology.org, 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.

ArtWay Visual Meditation July 11, 2021