The Visitation

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The priests assign some Temple virgins to accompany her to the home where she will be awaiting Joseph. In a few cases she is accompanied by what appears to be a female servant carrying a sack, as in the first picture on the right. Another addition that we see as early as the 6th century and as late as the 14th is a young person peeking out from the house. In the second picture on the right it is a young man or boy holding back a curtain to observe the scene. In Click the link for the description page. And of course we sometimes see Elizabeth's husband Zechariah, as above and in Croatia, — Click the link for the description page.

Church of the Visitation

In Luke the angel tells Mary that Elizabeth is six months pregnant, and Mary stays with her for three months. Adding in the time for travel to Judah, we might calculate that Mary was there for the birth of John the Baptist, and indeed the Golden Legend tells us that she stayed in the city "for three months until John was born, and lifted him from the earth with her own hands" Ryan I, Click the link for the description page. See the description page.


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It is traditionally credited to St. Mary , the mother of Jesus, venerated in the Christian church since the apostolic age and a favourite subject in Western art, music, and literature. It is all the more haunting in person, without Viola's heavy hand, for standing stock still. Nor can every Renaissance panel look comfortable on a shelf in a small room, shorn of its frame, its top edge resting on the wall.


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  8. And this one does not, for which it has only a museum to blame. Still, Pontormo's encounters are not bringing comfort. They are bringing news. For starters, they are bringing news to one another. The Virgin Mary, newly pregnant with a son of god, is sharing her joy with a dear relative.

    Elizabeth in turn has news of her own, for she will give birth to another witness to Jesus, John the Baptist.

    Through painting, as through the legend itself, they are also bringing the news to you. The tale occurs only in Luke, the Gospel most concerned with bearing news to the gentiles—and so concerned with wrapping things up tidily that John, too, is all in the family. One can see why the subject appealed to Domenico Ghirlandaio , a painter of emerging middle-class values like family and the teacher of Michelangelo , or to Raphael. Something, though, stands in the way of the good news, only beginning with the witnesses. One stands behind and between the protagonists, as if determined to keep them apart.

    THE VISITATION

    The other stands behind Mary's back, like a guilty conscience. For all four women, this is a perilous moment, on the threshold of new births and a new order.


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    Mary and Elizabeth reach out and touch one another, but just short of an embrace, and their faces mix joy with something far more serious. They in turn keep the witnesses, if only barely, at one remove from the viewer. Everything here is both too close and too far. The feet of all four rest barely within the painting's borders and almost as large as life. Yet the figures bar the viewer's passage and remain out of reach.

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    The narrow passage presses in as well. Steps come uncomfortably close to Elizabeth's back, as if her very home has refused her entrance. Buildings across the street appear close as well, but a puzzling perspective makes its unidentified residents incomprehensibly occupied and incomprehensibly small—the only two now visible, to judge by a near final drawing that lacks them, added at very the last minute. They are definitely not bearing witness. They belong instead to Pontormo's first love, Renaissance Florence, but the news there was not at all good.

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    The painting today resides barely ten miles west of the city, in Carmignano. You can forgive yourself if your day trips from Florence took you instead to Padua, for Giotto , or to Arezzo, for Piero della Francesca and what the Met in called Piero's " Personal Encounters. Still, a recent cleaning has brought it new attention and a later date, or