Art for Meditation

 

Jacopo Carucci, known as Pontormo (Pontorme, 1494  – Florence, 1557), Visitation, around 1528-30, oil on board, cm 202 x 156, Carmignano, Italy, Prepositure of Saints Michael and Francis

 

Pontormo has set the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth in a dark city street, where some bare, off-scale buildings are visible. The darkness of the scene is pierced by the light that is reflected on the figures in the foreground, on the faces and especially on the drapery.

The two women, protagonists of this Gospel scene, are exchanging a hug and a very intense gaze. Mary shows wonder for what the angel announced to her about her cousin’s pregnancy. Elizabeth, on the other hand, looks at Mary with gratitude, because she came to visit her despite a long, dangerous journey.

Behind the two women in the foreground, there are two bystanders. The one on the right is an old woman, while the other one is younger. Both are looking directly at us, the audience, and they seem to have no interest in what is happening right before them. The alternation of the four female figures (starting from the left: frontal face, face in profile, frontal face, face in profile; and again: young-young, old-old) creates almost a doubling of Mary and Elizabeth. Their disposition in the painting makes the figures look like the four pillars of a sort of parallelepiped, strongly illuminated and cloaked in garments of extremely intense and full-bodied colours: dark blue-green, pink, and orange.

The movement of the women in the foreground is counterbalanced by the stillness and firm frontal disposition of those in the background, which do not show any emotional involvement in the event, but contribute to creating a suspended, melancholic, and highly spiritual atmosphere.

The movement and the garments of the two cousins – the only dynamic elements in the painting - arouse in us, the spectators of the scene, the same feeling of wonder that pervades the meeting: Mary has just found out that what the angel announced is true, that is, Elizabeth is pregnant and will give birth to a child soon. This means that also her announced motherhood is real, as confirmed by her cousin calling her "mother" and confirming the bliss for having believed in the fulfillment of the words of the Lord (cf. Lk 1: 41-45).

 

Of all women you are the most blessed

and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?