Tomorrow is the feast day of the Visitation, so this week’s picture is a depiction of that theme by the great Florentine Mannerist painter, Jacopo Pontormo. The work was created some time between 1528 and 1530, to judge by its style and the bright, acid colours which the artist has employed – a hallmark of his work from this period. The picture adorns the altar of a side chapel in a small church called the Pieve di San Michele, in the town of Carmignano, close to Florence.

The picture shows the Virgin Mary, just after having received the Annunciation, paying a visit to her pregnant cousin Elisabeth. The fullest telling of the story is to be found in the Gospel according to St Luke. Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth “had no child, because that Elizabeth was barren”. But then the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias in a vision and told him that “thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John” – John the Baptist, as he would come to be known, “a child great in the sight of the Lord.” In the sixth month of Elisabeth’s pregnancy, Gabriel was sent forth by God once more, this time to the city of Nazareth, where he announced to the Virgin Mary that she was to bear Jesus, the Son of God. On hearing the miraculous news, Mary went to Elisabeth, “and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”

Pontormo depicted...

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