Friday, December 4, 2009

Scenes from the Life of the Virgin: 7. Visitation

Title: Scenes from the Life of the Virgin: 7. Visitation

Artist: Giotto di Bondone

Medium: Fresco

Size: 150 x 140 cm

Date: 1306

Location: Cappella Scrovegni, Padua.

After the proclamation of the angel Gabriel, Luke 1:39-45 records that Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" In reply Mary proclaimed the wonders of the Lord, and stayed with Elizabeth for about three months before returning home.

In this passage we read of John's very early response; he is a forerunner even as he responds in Elizabeth's womb. This note of fulfillment of the angelic promise comes from one filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb. The fact that Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit as she reports the response indicates how Luke views her response: she expresses the mind of God. This sign sets the mood for the passage, that the basic response to the arrival of Jesus should be one of joy.

Giotto di Bondone (1267,Vespignano - 1337,Firenze) was a Florentine painter and architect. This fresco portrays the pregnant Mother of God and her two companions visiting Elizabeth, who is expecting John the Baptist. The two women embrace in front of the portico. As so often, Giotto places the intensity of the encounter in the exchange of glances. This work was one of several fresco’s decorating the Scrovegni Chapel, named after its donor Enrico Scrovegni of Padua. He had purchased a large piece of land in the area around the Roman amphitheatre, known as the Arena, to build a palace and a private chapel. Of these once impressive buildings, only the single-nave church remains.

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