The Virgin’s Cell of Devotion: Site as Insight in the Getty Annuniciation and Thomas À Kempis’s Marian Writings

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Fifteenth century visual and material culture records a vibrant devotion to Mary in the annunciation, one of central significance in the `devout imagination.' This dissertation foregrounds annunciation paintings and constellates them with prayers (incorporated in devotional treatises and homilies), to retrieve an imaginative meditational praxis that yoked seeing the forms of Mary and Gabriel, repeating the prayers to conform, and representing the event to reform the self in imitatio Mariae.

After identifying the tradition, the author applies these rubrics to the Getty Annunciation in dialogue with Thomas à Kempis's Marian writings. The study demonstrates their reciprocal resonance: Bouts was the first Early Netherlandish artist to paint a contemplative Virgin. The artist portrays the Virgin in a site that reflects the influence of the devotio moderna and mirrors the Devout's commitment, to keep silence and await the Virgin in their cells of devotion—a praxis that reflects the late-medieval turn inward, emphasizing the embodied soul as the site of reform and spiritual exercises.

This study breaks new ground by examining the temporal and spatial coordinates of art intended for sacramental use, and then appropriated for `spiritual progress.' Reciprocally, identifying the temporal and spatial coordinates of the embodied rituals affords an exploration of the incarnational imagination in the Devout's daily spiritual disciplines. Rather than offering an art historical description of a religious painting, or a theological analysis using images to illustrate a doctrinal point, this study integrates the spirituality of both art and textual forms, allowing each to enrich and illumine the other.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Theology (PhD in Theology)

First Advisor

Dyrness, William A.

Document Type





Annunciation, J. Paul Getty Museum, Christian saints in art, Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, History of Biblical events


Missions and World Christianity


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