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The woman in the painting on the cover of this book stands with her back to us. She is far from open to the viewer. What is half-open in the painting is the door in front of her, and indeed also the door to her right, and another door and a sliver of sun-lit window glimmering from the interior into which the central door allows us a peek. The woman's head, in keeping with the tentativeness of the doors, is half-turned towards the main door and the recess into which it opens. Her body is turned – though only partly – towards the door on the right. The positions of the human figure and the architectural figures speak to each other and build up to an image that holds a delicate, precarious, yet oddly calm and luminous sense of the uncertain, the indeterminate and the transitory. The lure of the image lies partly in the infinite possibilities of what Gaston Bachelard might have called objects that may be opened; partly in the tease of being made to pause on the brink, at the moment when clarity, definition and even interiority are just beyond grasp; partly in the fascination of transitional spaces; and partly in the risk, even unease, underlying moments of transition, and the excitement of not knowing where one might end up. It is defined by a sense of contingency, and it shapes narrative into a structure of desire.
In Lino Mannocci's inkjet monotype sequence on the theme of the Annunciation (2009), we are faced with a set of five somewhat uncanny images – familiar yet strange; or the familiar rendered alien. ‘I am the Lord's servant’, the first in the series (Figure 1), is immediately recognisable not only because of the traditional configuration of the angel and Mary facing each other, but also because the angel is Domenico Veneziano's Gabriel, made by cutting out a stencilled image of Veneziano's famous painting of the Annunciation in the Fitzwilliam Museum (Figure 2), around which Mannocci has organised his exhibition of (mainly) Renaissance engravings of the Annunciation, running parallelly. But it is also eerie because, instead of the neat symmetry of that painting, and the clear sense of Gabriel entering Mary's space both in Veneziano and in the pictorial tradition more widely, here we have Mary's tentative half-entry into a frame which is occupied firmly by the angel and his world, including an embryonic cloud floating purposefully down towards Mary, and what looks like a sickle moon peeping out of clouds instead of the harmonious light suffusing Veneziano's canvas. In fact, Mary's kneeling body is half out of the frame, and half in, a position brought to life here by Mannocci's manipulation of his specific craft: using an etching press, paper and a plate, he places Mary's inkjet figure across the plate-mark, rather than within it, before printing, to play with the boundaries.
It is a pastorall Tragic-comedie, which the people seeing when it was plaid, having ever had a singuler guift in defining, concluded to be a play of contry hired Shepheards, in gray cloakes, with curtaild dogs in strings, sometimes laughing together, and sometimes killing one another: And misling whitsun ales, creame, wasiel & morris-dances, began to be angry. In their error I would not have you fall, least you incurre their censure. […] A tragie-comedie is not so called in respect of mirth and killing, but in respect it wants deaths, which is inough to make it no tragedie, yet brings some neere it, which is inough to make it no comedie: which must be a representation of familiar people, with such kinde of trouble as no life be questiond, so that a God is as lawfull in this as in a tragedie, and meane people as in a comedie. This much I hope will serve to justifie my Poeme, and make you understand it, to teach you more for nothing, I do not know that I am in conscience bound.
This is how John Fletcher summarises the characteristics of tragicomedy for the readership of The Faithful Shepherdess (first performed 1608–09, printed c.1609). Its theatrical audience had not been won over by its version of the latest trends in Italian pastoral drama, so this is an attempt to answer their objections.