Monday, April 4, 2016

The Annunciation Mosaic at the Plaza Church in Los Angeles

The Annunciation sits over the facade of Our Lady Queen of Angels Plaza Church on Main Street in old Los Angeles. It was created by Isabel Piczek, according to the Public Art in L.A. website, and is 7 feet, 4 inches tall and 11 feet wide. This lovely picture showing all its detail comes from the YouAreHere website.

The mosaic was put together out of Byzantine tesserae from Pietra Santa, Italy in 1980.

I've blogged about Piczek's work before, at St. Catherine Laboure Church in Torrance, and at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City. She is exclusively an ecclesiastical artist who used to work with her sister Edith, and she looks very fragile, like porcelain, in the picture that comes up when I google her name.

The mosaic replaced a plastered-over fresco dating from 1861 that showed Mary with the infant Jesus, along with two angels. The artist of that fresco was Henri Joseph Penelon, who came to Los Angeles from France in 1850 when he was in his early 20s. 

Penelon was our first local artist, painting portraits of Los Angeles area luminaries like Don Jose Sepulveda and the man at right, Don Vicente Lugo.  He was also a photographer and he may -- may -- have taken the first picture ever of Los Angeles. You can read about that (and see the picture, which actually shows the Plaza Church) in this KCET article by Nathan Masters.

Penelon lived until 1885, dying in Prescott, Arizona.

His fresco at the Plaza Church was plastered over in 1950; I haven't learned why -- was it deteriorating? fading? -- nor do I know what may have filled the space, if anything, before this mosaic.

And this mosaic was dedicated on September 4, 1981 (L.A.'s Bicentennial) by Cardinal Timothy Manning. Here it is as you can see it today, over the doors. This picture is on the Public Art in L.A. website (again), as is the text on the bronze plaque next to the doors:

La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles, oldest church in the city of Los Angeles. Dedicated December 8, 1822. Plaque placed by Californiana Parlor Native Daughters of the Golden West, March 20, 1983.

This mosaic at the Plaza Church is actually a replica of a painting in Italy created in 1393 by Ilario da Viterbo. "The Annunciation," or "L'Annunciazione," was part of a six panel mural that da Viterbo created for the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi. That Basilica is built around the 9th century chapel called the Porziuncola, which is where St. Francis of Assisi renounced wealth, dedicated himself to God, and founded the Franciscan order in 1208.

From a purely aesthetic standpoint, I think our mosaic is far lovelier than the original mural. This picture of the original is from a collection of images called Bunavestire, dedicated to classic paintings of the Annunciation.

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