The oil on wood painting depicts the story of the Annunciation, that is when Archangel Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary that God had chosen her as the mother of Jesus Christ. The work remained relatively unknown until 1867, when it was moved from a convent near
New elements distinguish this piece from this iconography represented by precedents of the earlier Renaissance period, however. The scene is depicted as taking place outside, in contrast to medieval iconography, in which the Virgin Mary Annunciate is always indoors, and sometimes Gabriele is outdoors or just coming through the door.
The angel’s physical depth is shown as he lands down on the grass after flying down from heaven with his wings still fluttering. He is a ‘classical’ angel according to traditional iconography, but his wings differ in that they are similar to those of a bird. They are very realistically painted. The way the clothing drapes on both figures is also very realistic.
According to Giorgio Vasari, Leonardo used to make chalk models of his figures and clothe them in order to accurately study the way in which the clothing draped on the figures.
With the right hand, Gabriel blesses the Virgin Mary, and in his left hand, he is holding a lily, a symbol for purity. The Virgin Mary is sitting down in front of a bookstand or small altar, which is decorated with classical motifs that seem very much influenced by Verrocchio.
The Virgin Mary has her right hand and arm unrealistically stretched out and seems to be reading the book in front of her, from back to front! In the background, there is a river with boats, mountains and trees. The line of cypress helps to physically divide the backdrop.