Friday, December 7, 2012

An Invitation to the Visitation

Our main text for this Second Sunday in this Advent season of considering God's Surprising Invitations is Luke 1:28-45, 56, which can be read here.  The first half of this reading is incredibly familiar--the story of the angel Gabriel appearing to young Mary to tell her she will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and bear the Son of God.  The second half of the story, at least to me, is not as familiar from typical narrations of the Christmas story:  the tale of Mary's visitation to her relative Elizabeth, who the angel Gabriel helpfully mentioned was also pregnant--just 6 months farther along in the miraculous process than Mary.

Why don't we know this part of the story as well?  It is probably true that the story of two women visiting together--even if it does involve a baby leaping in recognition--is not as magical and glamorous as the story of the angel's appearance and announcement.  Yet, when I have visited art museums, I have been amazed to see how frequently this story is told on canvas even when it is more rarely told from pulpits.  It is a story that seems to have captured an undue amount of attention from painters...on, a resource I turn to for images with some frequency, the second half of this week's story--that comprised of those lesser read verses 39-45--has 262 pieces of art ancient and modern associated with it.

The vast number of ways this scene has been brought visually to life amazes me, and so I offer some of my favorites below for your consideration.  Which of these capture your attention?  How do the facial expressions and body language of the two women differ among the paintings?  When other people are included in the images, what do their expressions seem to convey?  What is the mood of these images, and which one do you most connect with?  Reflecting on art is a wonderful way of being invited into the imagine and enjoy!

An Early Eastern Christian fresco

"Visitation" by artist Jim Janknegt (contemporary)

"The Visitation" by Romare Bearden (1941)

Pontormo's "The Visitation" (16th century)

 "The Visitation" by Chinese artist He Qi (contemporary)

"TheVisitation" by Philippe de Champaigne (17th century)

Mary and Elizabeth in the 2006 film "The Nativity Story"

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