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Visitation

mary elizabeth women birth

The Gospel of *Luke (1:39-56) describes how the Virgin *Mary, informed by the *angel *Gabriel at the *Annunciation that her elderly kinswoman *Elizabeth was pregnant, journeyed to visit her. When the two women greeted each other at Elizabeth’s home, Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy   Ghost,” saluted Mary as the mother of the Lord. They both recognized prophecies being fulfilled; three months later Elizabeth gave birth to Saint *John the Baptist; Mary later gave birth to Jesus. The scene of the Visitation occurs in art as early as the fifth or sixth century and involves either the two women embracing each other or standing apart and conversing. Both types are repeated throughout the Middle Ages. An architectural structure may be indicated as background, and servants or other onlookers may be present. The women may be shown hugging, clasping each other’s arms, shaking hands, bowing, or standing quietly and gazing at each other. In late medieval art, the elderly Elizabeth may be shown kneeling in front of Mary, or, tiny figures of the two infants may be indicated on (within) the women—also exchanging greetings. This latter imagery derives from the Byzantine * Platytera and is found only briefly in very late medieval (especially German) representations.

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