Meijer Brothers, Visitation Altarpiece

18th or 19th century
High relief in center, paintings on outer panels
Church of the Visitation ("Maria Heimsuchung"), Meersburg, Germany

The scene is not typical of Visitation images. First, it is set in an interior; almost all Visitations are set either at Elizabeth's door or at the gate of her city. Second, Elizabeth rarely kneels to Mary in Visitations. Most importantly, Mary is pictured as praying, with her hands extended and her face turned up to Heaven. Clearly, she is praying the Magnificat, the canticle in Luke 1:46-55.

The male bystander would appear at first to be St. Anthony Abbot, because of the tau-topped staff and the long beard. But there is no pig, his usual attribute, so one could argue that he is Zachariah, Elizabeth's husband and the man of the house. It is Zachariah who spoke the other canticle recorded in Luke 1 (verses 68-79). Each of the two canticles in Luke 1 is recited daily in the Divine Office (Marquess I, 28, 180). If the man is indeed Zachariah the staff would simply be a reminder that he and his wife were of advanced age, as is noted in Luke 1:18.

Angels are rare in Visitation images, but may have been deemed appropriate in this image focusing on the canticle.

St. Agnes is pictured in the right panel with her attributes, lilies and a lamb. Lilies also figure as an attribute of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, the saint in the left panel.

The Agnes panel is signed Gebr. Meiger Uberlingen, "Meijer Brothers, Überlingen." Überlingen is in southern Germany, not far from Meersburg. Aloysius Gonzaga was not canonized until 1726, so the painting's date is most likely after that year.

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View a detail of St. Agnes.
Read more about images of the Visitation and of St. Agnes and St. Aloysius Gonzaga.

Photographed at the church by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.