Questions surround Nelli’s ‘twin works’


Stucco work on Nelli’s Annunciation

Did Nelli use same drawing for her ‘twin’ Annunciation paintings? Nelli paints a reading lectern next to Madonna in her Palazzo Vecchio work. The book she is reading is frequently interpreted as the Old Testament, specifically the Book of Isaiah, which according to the Catholic Church, contains a prophecy that a virgin shall give birth to the Messiah. Also, the book denotes the Virgin as Queen of Wisdom. Behind the Virgin in the room in both of Nelli’s works is a bed covered in red fabric, symbolic of the future blood of Christ’s Passion. These two works are spatially complex showing the interior of a porch or chamber, exterior Brunelleschi-like architecture of columns and rounded arches. A rounded arched gateway takes the viewer’s eye into a mountainous landscape with white clouds in the sky.

Did Nelli find inspiration for her Annunciations in drawings by Bartolommeo? Or had she seen other altarpieces with same subject in churches she visited in Florence? Fra Angelico painted the theme but within the cells of the monastery of San Marco. How much would she have earned for her convent from sale of these two works? Some have described Nelli as becoming the “image maker” of the Dominicans, much like Fra Bartolommeo had been earlier.