Oldest Surviving Icon of the Annunciation

The Annunciation, late 2nd century, Rome.

The Annunciation, late 2nd century, Rome.

The oldest surviving icon of the Annunciation is found in the Catacomb of Priscilla on the Via Salaria in Rome, Italy, and dates from the second half of the second century A.D. Priscilla is thought to have been a well-to-do Roman who converted to Christianity and was martyred. These Christian catacombs, along with many others found surrounding Rome, are a treasury of early Christian iconography.

One difference between this depiction of the Annunciation and later icons is that the Mother of God is shown with her head uncovered. In Rome, young virginal maidens would always have their heads uncovered, and so the imagery is in keeping with the Christian beliefs regarding Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ. The veil worn in the East would come to dominate iconography of the Mother of God in later centuries.

Other than this difference, it is remarkable how similar this image is to the established iconography of the Annunciation: Mary seated in a high-backed chair, the Archangel Gabriel stood, robed simply, with bare feet, and arm raised to signify he is speaking:

Annunciation Icon, Ohrid, 14th Century

Annunciation Icon, Ohrid, 14th Century

Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with You!

About the Icon of the Annunciation

History and Development of the Annunciation in Iconography (beginning with the Catacombs of Priscilla)


This entry was posted in History, Icons of the Incarnation, The Theotokos and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Oldest Surviving Icon of the Annunciation

  1. I am a new blogger, a new convert, and a history major at University, so when I came across this I was amazed to see the unveiled depiction of the Theotokos in the Classical style (given that this was of course subterranean Rome!) It just goes to show how depictions of the Virgin vary according to predominating local cultural and artistic influences, yet the Church’s message of the Annunciation and her celebration of its joyful promise remain constant!

    Thank you for sharing! I am studying on exchange this semester in Scotland and hope to visit Rome on spring break in a month! I have been before, but would love to see this catacomb!

  2. Mimi says:

    What an amazing icon, thank you. May I pin it on Pinterest?
    Thank you!

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  5. Shanii Rai says:

    Who painted the Annunciation icon from Ohrid?

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