Label Text: This painting presents the meeting between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, as recounted in the Bible. Both women are pregnant—Elizabeth’s son will be John the Baptist and Mary will give birth to Jesus. According to the story, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit when the future mother of Christ arrives and John the Baptist kicks joyfully in his mother’s womb in response to Christ’s presence.
The artist includes the viewer in this private moment by bringing Elizabeth and the table close to the picture plane and placing them at the viewer’s level. The intimate space and dramatic use of light and shade, especially the shadow cast by Elizabeth’s form, heighten the emotion of the scene.
Religion always played an important role in Henry Ossawa Tanner’s life. With the artistic freedom he found in Europe, this African-American artist built a successful career and international reputation. From the 1890s until the end of his life, Tanner painted exclusively religious scenes.