The Apocryphal Meeting of the Virgin and Child with St. Elizabeth and the Young St. John the Baptist
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Benedetto Cervi
Italian, 1520s - 1530s
11 1/2 x 11 x 2 15/16 in.

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This narrative relief illustrates a scene from a popular thirteenth-century text that emphasized the humanity of Christ and the Virgin Mary. With the Christ child on her lap, Mary is approached by young Saint John the Baptist and his mother, the Virgin's cousin Saint Elizabeth. The elderly Elizabeth helps her son along as he walks toward Jesus to offer him a globe, a sign of Christ's role as savior of the world. Two small boys, possibly angels, accompany the group. At the center of the relief, a prominently placed tree likely signifies the Tree of Life.

The relief may have formed part of a larger sculptural complex, although it would also have been appropriate for an altar. Because of the rarity of its subject and its extraordinarily high quality, it is also possible that the relief stood on its own as a devotional image in a private chapel.