Seattle Art Museum announced this week the acquisition of two 17th-century European paintings — both thematically apropos of the season.
First: Philippe de Champaigne “The Visitation,” a touchingly naturalistic depiction of two expectant mothers: Elizabeth (who bore John the Baptist) and the Virgin Mary. Here’s a reproduction, with some description courtesy of SAM:
“The Visitation,” ca. 1643
One of Europe’s most penetrating portraitists of the seventeenth century, Philippe de Champaigne brought his observations of real people into religious paintings, giving them a genuine and natural quality. In The Visitation, the central focus is the aged face of Elizabeth as she affectionately greets her younger cousin, the Virgin Mary. Only the haloes suggest the divine identities of the two pregnant women, Elizabeth with John the Baptist and Mary with Jesus. According to the Gospel of Luke “when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb.” For Christians, this joyous response by John, the last prophet of the Old Testament, symbolized the transition from the Old Law to the New Dispensation of Christianity.
Second: Francisco de Zurbarán’s “Flight Into Egypt”:
Some notes, again from SAM:
“The Flight into Egypt,” late 1630s
Seventeenth-century religious painters strove to make stories from the Bible real and urgent for their contemporary audiences. Francisco de Zurbarán, noted painter of Spain’s Golden Age, portrays Joseph and Mary fleeing to Egypt after Joseph had a prophetic dream that the jealous King Herod would threaten his infant son’s life. The Virgin and Child are portrayed as ordinary citizens, yet their frontal orientation invites devout veneration. Joseph, walking next to the donkey and attending to his wife and son, wears the broad hat, cloak and staff typical of a religious pilgrimage.
Both paintings are from the collection of SAM Trustee Barney A. Ebsworth and are now on view at SAM.