Agency and the Annunciation

Academic Article


  • © 2013, Springer Science+Business Media New York (outside the USA). Prior research has revealed that when healthy participants, who are not artists, are asked to draw a person who is performing an action, they are more likely to position the agent on the left and the person or object receiving this action, the patient, on the right. Thus, the goal of this study was to learn whether in works of art, such as those portraying the Annunciation of the angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary, artists would be more likely to place the angel, who is the agent, on the left of Mary, who is the patient. We found that in our sample of 604 paintings of the Annunciation by different artists that the agent Gabriel is significantly more frequently portrayed to left of Mary. Whereas this result supports the left-agent, right-patient hypothesis, the reason for this spatial bias is not entirely known, but may be related to several factors such as the learned left to right direction of reading/writing in European languages, left-versus right-sided emotional facial expressive asymmetries, a left-sided spatial attentional bias and a spatial motor-action preference of upper extremity for making abductive (left to right) movements when using the right upper extremity. Additionally, biblical explanations and theological principles may have influenced the organization of this scene.
  • Authors

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Acosta LMY; Williamson JB; Heilman KM
  • Start Page

  • 1616
  • End Page

  • 1621
  • Volume

  • 53
  • Issue

  • 6