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The Visitation

Francesco Barbieri

(1591 - 1666) | 803.16

Date : 1632 | Medium : Oil on canvas

This painting was originally found in the Giraldi chapel in the cathedral at Reggio Emilia, with as a matching pair The Martyrdom of Saint John and Saint Paul, today conserved in the Musée des Augustins in Toulouse. The Visitation is a masterpiece by the Bologna-based artist, dating from the period before he took over the workshop of Guido Reni in 1642. At this time Guercino’s art was still characterised by a balance between, on the one hand, a spirit strongly anchored in the reality of the characters and, on the other, the ideal harmony of a perfect composition. This Visitation reveals a personal style that distances itself from the realism of the Carracci brothers, while not yet being marked by the art of Guido Reni.  

This painting can be viewed equally well either from a distance or close up. The superb force of the colour range is matched only by the sublime expression on the faces of the Virgin Mary and Saint Elizabeth, which, in a simple exchange of looks, conveys very subtly but also extremely intensely the bond between ideal beauty and purity on the one side, and old age and experience on the other.

The interplay of lines, while following extremely conventional rules, again reinforces with a great deal of force the depth of the moment of the meeting between the two saints. In fact the great stability of the architectural framework, with the great central column and the wide pedestal, contrasts with the multiple movements of the folds of fabric, while at centre-stage we see the gentleness of the hand that is placed in that of the elder woman.