Saturday, November 26, 2011

"The Annunciation" Christmas Stamp 1968

Above is a maximum card with the 1968 U.S. Christmas stamp. The stamp has a detail from The Annunciation painting by Jan van Eyck, a great fifteenth century Flemish artist. The painting is in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. It is believed that it originally was a side panel in a triptych.

The scene in the painting depicts the Annunciation by the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she will bear the son of God, and the incarnation of Christ as the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, descending towards Mary on a beam of light. The painting includes the words (omitted from the stamp) uttered by the angel, “Ave gratia plena” (hail, full of grace) and those spoken by Mary, “Ecce ancilla domini” (behold the handmaiden of the Lord). Mary's words are painted upside down for God above to see.

The painting received a major cleaning in 1998, which probably accounts for most of the color differences between the older images and the detail shown below with the "spoken" words.

The Arago website has a section with design files for the 1968 Christmas Issue here. The design files include alternate stamp designs using The Annunciation and copies of correspondence.

The first official U.S. Christmas stamps were issued in 1962. Since 1970, two general themes of Christmas stamps have been issued yearly: one "traditional" and one "contemporary." The traditional stamps usually are based on religious artwork, while the contemporary stamps usually have a secular subject. Many of the artworks that have inspired the traditional stamps are in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. To showcase this tradition, the National Gallery of Art and the National Postal Museum have partnered to create an online exhibit exploring the The Art of Christmas Stamps.

I am participating in Sunday Stamps at Viridian's Postcard Blog


  1. Interesting, as I haven't seen this one before. There is so much art on Christmas stamps from all over the world I guess Viridian may give us a Christmas topic soon.

  2. This is beautiful!

    I didn't know the US Christmas stamps came in two forms. Our set this year is very religious though they say last year's Wallace & Gromit stamps are still available. Nobody told them at our post office.

  3. Wonderfully vibrant colours in the original/cleaned painting. Makes a nice contrast with the stamp.

  4. Thank you for the links also. Yes we do have two Xmas stamps: one like this, or with VIrgin and child, and one with snowmen or something like that. thank you Postcardy for this maximum card.

  5. I think that Virgin Mary is one of the most present themes in the artworks ive seen in my life, and often portrayed so differently. The maxi card here is great!!

    I didnt know also the US had two kinds of Christmas stamps. We only have one stamp per year, sometimes they are more religiuos and sometimes more cartoonish

  6. Very pretty. I didn't know the USPS has been doing Christmas stamps for so long!

  7. I really like the extreme vertical layout of the stamp. Not to mention the great artwork.


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