The Visitation (part of a diptych)
sixteenth – seventeenth century
tempera on panel
Vatican Pinacoteca, Inv. 40554

General Description

This panel with the Visitation was part of a diptych with two compartments, painted on both sides. It complements the panel with the Woman of Revelation. The scene of the Visitation belongs to the classical scenes of the life of Mary. It depicts Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45), and shows the two women in joyful and tender embrace.  Zachariah appears at the door, welcoming, but a mere bystander.  He holds in his hands a basket possibly containing food.  Elizabeth conveys a similarly domestic impression:   she carries, tied to her cincture, a pouch and a knife (objects sometimes carried by midwives!).  Rays of golden light fall from the skies on the two cousins, both future mothers.  The emphasis is on the spiritual significance of the encounter, and gives it a prophetic dimension. Both mothers are believers in the promise of God;  both sons will be instrumental in bringing the promise to fruition (John the Baptist) and completion (Jesus).

It is said that this Visitation panel is based on an etching by Albrecht Dürer, and dated before 1506.  The similarity is indeed striking, if we look at the main actors and the basic composition only.  The contrast is similarly surprising.  The painter of the panel has eliminated most of the anecdotal and geographical elements in Dürer’s etching to concentrate on the central theme of the encounter between Elizabeth and Mary.  Dürer’s Visitation has a markedly narrative and anecdotal character.  Our panel is steeped in the icon tradition, and stresses the deeper meaning of this meeting.

For more information:

Consult the exhibit catalog: The Mother of God:  Art Celebrates Mary,  pp. 62-63.

See The Mary Page:

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