A call to pilgrimage

The Annunciation was one of Leonardo da Vinci’s first paintings. It is generally dated between 1472 and 1476. My preference is for the latter end of the range, 1476, because Leonardo embedded references to the charge of sodomy that was made against him that same year. 

The Annunciation (1476) by Leonardo da Vinci, Uffizi, Florence

References to the year of 1475 – declared as a Holy Year by Pope Sixtus IV – are also embedded in the painting. Holy years are also known as Jubilee years.

The Jubilee Year, according to Christianity, is a time of joy, the year of remission or universal pardon. The celebration of the Jubilee Year is quoted in several verses of the bible like in Leviticus 25:10 which says: ‘and shalt proclaim remission to all the inhabitants of thy land: for it is the year of jubilee.’ The Jubilee Year was celebrated every fifty years and during this year, families were expected to find their absent family members, the Hebrew slaves were to be set free, debts were to be settled and illegally owned land had to be returned to its owners.

“According to Roman Catholic Church’s history, the first Jubilee Year in the Roman Catholic Church was instituted by Pope Boniface VIII in 1300. During the celebration of the first Jubilee Year, Pope Boniface VIII passed his message of the need for people to confess their sins by fulfilling certain conditions. The first condition was to be repentant and confess their sins, and the second condition was to visit either St Peter or St Paul in Rome and pass through the “Holy Doors”, within the specified time of the celebration.”

That one of the conditions of the Jubilee was for people to travel to Rome would be considered a pilgrimage, which is one of the themes to be found in the painting. Pointers to locations in Rome in The Annunciation painting indicate that Leonardo da Vinci was one of thousands who made a pilgrimage to Rome during the Jubilee year of 1475. (source: vatican.com)

Neither would he have been the only painter from Florence to have made the journey to the Eternal City. Domenico Ghirlandaio certainly did. He was employed that year by Pope Sixtus IV to ‘decorate’ the newly built Vatican Library. Vatican sources also mention other painters being employed to paint and decorate Rome in 1475, including Sandro Botticelli and Andrea del Verrochio, but there is no record of Leonardo among the Florentine group.

 “The Annunciation to Mary” from the Chronology of Ancient Nations (1307) by Al-Biruni.

I pointed out in a previous post that The Annunciation painting also contains several pointers to Islam. So it’s not surprising to discover Leonardo embedded references to the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and the Kaaba, the “House of Allah”, where Muslims “cleanse their souls of all worldly sin”. 

More on this in a future post.