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The Visitation, Salisbury (St. Thomas), Wiltshire (‡Salisbury [Sarum]) C.15

Photo:T.Marshall Visitation, St. Thomas, Salisbury [118KB]
Paintings of the Visitation, the post-Annunciation meeting of the Virgin Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, then awaiting the birth of the child who would become John the Baptist, are now quite rare in the English church. Possibly, and despite the fact that the event is Scriptural, this is because incidents in the Life of the Virgin came in for particular iconoclastic attention. But some medieval churchmen seem to have found depictions of a visibly pregnant Virgin (or Elizabeth) indecorous in themselves, so constraints of this kind may have been operating.

But the painter here clearly had no reservations about making the pregnancies very explicit through the gestures of Mary and her cousin. Mary, her hair loose in token of her perpetual virginity, is at the left, with Elizabeth, soberly dressed as a matron of the day, to the right. Further right is the blue and pale red doorway of Elizabeth’s house, and along the horizon in the background are several trees.
The painting, in the Lady Chapel, sits between the Annunciation to its left and the Adoration of the Magi to its right. The symbolic lily-pots and the Orders of the Garter painted on the background form a repeating pattern surrounding all three subjects. All of them, in common with the famous but thoroughly problematic Doom at Salisbury have been restored, probably several times; of the three subjects, this is the most sensitively restored, I think.

The Order of the Garter, incidentally, is believed to be there because the Bishop at the time was also Chancellor of the Order. And perhaps ‘Evil to him who evil thinks’¹ was thought to be an apposite response to the impending miraculous births here.

¹Honi soit qui mal y pense’, motto of the Order of the Garter

Website for St Thomas Becket, Salisbury

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Annunciation, Sth. Newington, Oxfordshire Annunciation, Tarrant Crawford, Dorset Annunciation, Martley, Worcestershire Annunciation/Visitation, Faversham, Kent
Annunciation/Visitation/Nativity, Newton Green, Suffolk Annunciation/Visitation, Pinvin, Worcs Annunciation-Fring, Norfolk Visitation, Dale Abbey, Derbys
Visitation, Salisbury (S.Thomas), Wilts. The Burial of the Virgin, Pickering, N.Yorks NEW Death, Burial & Coronation of the Virgin, Sutton Bingham, Somerset Coronation of the Virgin, Black Bourton, Oxon
Background to Statue, with painted angels, Brent Eleigh, Suffolk Virgin Enthroned, with angels, Arundel, Sussex Virgin Enthroned, with donors, Cawston, Norfolk Life of the Virgin, Broughton, Oxon.
Virgin & Child, with wand and apple, South Newington, Oxford Virgin & Child, with sceptre & orb(?), Wickhamford, Worcs. Virgin suckling the Christ Child, Beckley, Oxon. Virgin suckling the Christ Child, Belchamp Walter, Essex
Death, Burial, Assumption & Coronation of the Virgin, Chalgrove, Oxfordshire Virgin intervening at the Weighing of Souls, Lathbury, Buckinghamshire The Annunciation/St Anne teaching the Virgin to read, Chapel of Our Lady of Bradwell, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire NEW Virgin & child enthroned/With SS Margaret, Catherine & Mary Magdalene, Little Wenham, Suffolk NEW

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Anne Marshall 2000