In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.
Following on from our collection of annunciation art, here are five favourite portrayals of Mary’s visit to her relative Elizabeth (the visitation), and her beautiful song (the magnificat).
If you have spent time in our home you might know that I really like orthodox iconography. It’s almost certainly a product of my Greek Orthodox childhood, but I’ve never really lost interest in it as I’ve changed church traditions. As an adult this interest has flourished into a delight in all kinds of liturgical visual art. I’m still a huge fan of classic orthodox icons, but over the years I have paid more attention to other kinds of symbolic art too. I can describe in pretty close detail all the stained-glass windows of my church and I’ve got a much better sense of the visual symbols used to identify different bible stories and heroes of the faith.
The visitation is depicted by many Catholic artists, but is strangely absent from traditional Orthodox iconography collections. One of the very few depictions of the visitation I have found from the Orthodox church is a fresco from a church in Kurbinovo, Macedonia (above). It’s beautiful but I wish they were smiling a little more. Mary should be gearing up to sing that amazing song! (Maybe they are upset about the realities of their pregnancies, Elizabeth is very old and Mary is an unwed virgin. Neither are in a socially or physically ideal situation to give birth, but surely they should still be smiling given all the words they actually say?)
That’s better. Now they are smiling! Life of Jesus Mafa is a French ministry, resourcing churches in North Cameroon through visual art and drama. Local leaders mobilise villagers to dramatise different stories from the four gospels. Pictures and sketches from drama are used to commission paintings, which in turn are used by local churches and missionaries to tell the stories of Jesus’ life, now illustrated in a culturally meaningful way. I really, really love their visitation painting (above). The women are smiling! So wonderful!
Franz Anton Maulbertsch also produced a smiling, Mary in his visitation painting from the 1770s (above). I love the way the faces have been done in this painting, especially the unfinished face peeking out from behind Mary’s skirt. Another favourite is by Isabella Ducrot (right). The amazing colours! The delicate halos! And so much emotion conveyed through such simple faces!
However my most favourite of all visitation and magnificat art is a stained glass window, created by Éric de Saussure for the Taize Monastic Community’s Church of Reconciliation (below). The bold lines and the colours make for perfect stained glass art. The facial expressions and body language speak volumes, and the baby Jesus and John the Baptist dancing are nicely, subtly done. The windows at the Church of Reconciliation are all pretty fantastic. See an even more beautiful picture of the visitation window here, and more of Saussure’s windows at photographer Didier Baudino’s Flickr Stream: [The Transfiguration] [Epiphany] [Palm Sunday] [Pentecost].