The Hours of Henry VIII

The Hours of Henry VIII Visitation, f. 40v

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Visitation, f. 40v

According to Luke (1:36–56), Gabriel also told the Virgin that her cousin Elizabeth, in her old age, had also conceived a son. Soon after, Mary went to visit her cousin, who was six months pregnant with John the Baptist. (The barren Elizabeth’s pregnancy was also considered miraculous.) When the Virgin greeted Elizabeth, the infant John leaped in her womb, a gesture interpreted at the first recognition of Christ as the Messiah.

In the miniature, the Virgin, dressed as she was in the Annunciation in a plum gown and blue cloak, gently extends her hand to Elizabeth. The older cousin folds her hands in prayerful recognition of the Mary’s role as the Mother of God. The thick burlet on Elizabeth’s head marks her as an old woman – the headgear on which it is fancifully based had been out of fashion by 1460. The brooch she wears at her hip as well as the thick gold belt with its pair of dangling purses – the likes of which are completely fantastic – also give her an exotic appearance. The tired man standing behind the pair—his eyes half shut—is Mary’s husband, Joseph.

Roger S. Wieck.
Curator, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts
The Morgan Library & Museum


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