I was going to start this blog post by writing that The Annunciation to the Shepherds is neither the title nor the subject one might expect from Jules Bastien-Lepage, and then explaining that—in 1875—he painted it for a travel scholarship (which dictated the subject).
But it occurred to me that, in fact, Bastien-Lepage can perhaps be characterized by his tendency to paint something just a little bit unexpected, though always in his attentively verisimilar manner. Even in his most typical pastoral paintings, his tack is often surprising.
Perhaps most wonderful to me in The Annunciation is the way he plays—just a little bit—with style.
While he figures the shepherds in his usual modern Realist manner—with precise details and chiaroscuro modelling—there’s something a little unearthly about the angel. Beyond the obvious, I mean.
Well, that’s because Bastien-Lepage has entirely swapped influences—the angel takes his shape not in the stark lights and darks of chiaroscuro, but in the smooth, hazy softness of sfumato.
The angel, in a sense, is the Raphael to the shepherds’ Caravaggio.