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The Visitation
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Jean Bourdichon
French, Tours, about 1480 - 1485
Tempera colors, and gold on parchment
6 7/16 x 4 9/16 in.
MS. 6, FOL. 41V

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In many books of hours, like this one, a miniature depicting a scene from the life of the Virgin precedes each of the eight devotions of the Hours of the Virgin. Here the Visitation precedes Lauds, which opens: Deus in adiutorium meu[m] intende. Domine ad adiuvandum me festina (God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me).

According to the Gospel of Saint Luke, the angel Gabriel informed Mary at the Annunciation that her elderly cousin Elizabeth would bear a child. When Mary hastened to her cousin's house and greeted her, Elizabeth felt her child, John the Baptist, leap in her womb. In the miniature, Elizabeth kneels in homage before Mary, as she was the first to recognize Mary as the mother of God.

In his depiction of the two women, Jean Bourdichon contrasted the Virgin's youthful beauty with the weathered visage of Elizabeth, who was well past childbearing years when she became pregnant. He also used atmospheric perspective to suggest how the eye reads objects in the distance differently: within the background landscape, objects further away are less distinct while closer objects are carefully delineated.