Bologna, Italy, ca. 1555-Milan, 1629
The Visitation, ca. 1602
Oil on canvas.
Apparent from its size, bold composition, and broad execution, this painting would have served as an altarpiece or part of an ensemble in a church. The subject is the encounter between the Virgin Mary, pregnant with the Christ Child, and the aged Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist. This scene was very popular, both as one from the Life of the Virgin and as the first acknowledgment of the Child’s divine nature. This interpretation is similar to one realized by Procaccini sometime after 1591 for the church of Santa Croce at Riva San Vitale, on the border between Italy and Switzerland.
Procaccini’s rendering of the scene possesses the graceful design, sharp color, and lyrical feeling of the Emilian school, in which he was trained. The painting’s composition, space, and human interaction are, however, much more simply ordered and accessible. These shifts in emphasis are characteristic of religious painting in Italy, following the reforms of the Council of Trent. The dictates of the council were closely followed in the diocese of Milan, under Cardinal Charles Borromeo. It was there that Procaccini’s combination of Mannerist artifice and Counter-Reformation rigor met with great success.