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Work of the Week | 19 October 2020

CAG.3047 Patrick Hennessy, The Angel of the Annunciation, 1953, oil on canvas, 70 x 90.4 cm. Presented, 2017. © the artist's estate.

The Angel of the Annunciation (1953) by Patrick Hennessy is at once simple and complex. The composition of two seemingly religious sculptures on the shore, against a backdrop of a glistening sea and clouded sky, may appear straightforward. However, when we question why these figures are placed here, who they represent, and what their relationship is to one another, then things become less clear.

A clue may be found in the title of the work, which suggests the winged figure to be the Archangel Gabriel, the messenger who reputedly announced the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. To follow this thought, we would expect the figure in the distance to be the Virgin Mary, but instead we find an androgynous sculptural form in French Gothic style.

One interpretation suggests that the subject may be taken from the Book of Revelation, in which Christ meets Gabriel, and thus the painting may relate to the beginning and the end (apocalypse). More likely is that, as relics of a previous order these out-of-place statues have lost their power, and as Seán Kissane suggests, are “irrelevant in a modern world.”

This startling, yet cryptic painting may also be rooted in the artist’s Catholic upbringing. Cork-born artist Patrick Hennessy (1915-1980) grew up in Scotland, but later returned to Ireland where he lived with his partner, and fellow artist, Henry Robertson Craig. Navigating a markedly conservative society as a gay man, Hennessy often encoded, consciously or otherwise, homosexual identity in his work and the tensions that arise between the public and authentic self.

As such, we would like to celebrate Cork Pride Festival (19-25 October) with this online contribution to the history of Irish LGBT+ culture.

Tune into The Arts House with Elmarie Mawe on Cork’s 96FM and C103FM every Sunday morning as Conor Tallon chats with assistant curator Michael Waldron about each WORK OF THE WEEK! Listen back to this week's chat here:


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