Missouri Synod Church in Downtown Memphis

The Visitation of Mary and Martha icon


This simple composition focuses on the greeting embrace of the two women, St Elizabeth in the red cloak and Mary in the blue.

They are surrounded not by scenery but by a background of gold leaf. Gold because it reflects light differently from pigment is used in iconography as a symbol of Divine Light.

The inscriptions on the background are Greek and read from top left “The Greeting” “” Elizabeth” “The All Holy” and “Mother of God”. Saints are frequently labeled in icons so that no confusion can arise about who is being portrayed.

The icon has an elevated border. Many ancient and some modern icons have a recess carefully chiselled out of the center of the board before the underlying gesso is applied and the image is painted. While this adds a certain decorative appeal as a built in frame the primary purpose is practical. The recess protects the image from damage when the icon is stacked with others and it supports a hand rest consisting of a flat piece of wood laid across the image while painting fine details.

The symbolism is in keeping with the teachings of the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church.

Mary’s cloak, called in Greek a homophorion, has three stars on her head and shoulders. They are symbolic of her perpetual virginity before, during, and after Christ’s birth.

The gold embroidery around the face reflects her special importance as Queen of Heaven and Mother of God. Halos [glorioles] surround the heads of Mary and Elizabeth and these are symbols of their sanctity.

Both women’s faces are painted in iconographic style with little attempt at realistic portraiture.┬áThe noses are long and narrow in the Byzantine ideal of nobility. The mouths are small and closed in the silence of spiritual contemplation. The eyes are overlarge windows to the spirit Neither saint makes eye contact with the other or with the viewer. Their gaze is within or toward the infinite.

Information provided by Catholic-Truths.com

The Visitation of Mary and Martha icon May 11, 2014