Painted by Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet (1644-1717) ,
Painted in 1716
Oil on canvas
© Notre-Dame de Paris, Paris
Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit exults in God my saviour;
because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name,
and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.
He has shown the power of his arm,
he has routed the proud of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy
– according to the promise he made to our ancestors –
of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home.
Reflection on the Painting
Our work of art is painted Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet. He depicted himself on the left overlooking the balustrade, beside a long-bearded monk, Chanoine de La Porte (1627-1710) who commissioned the piece alongside seven other large canvases. All were installed to decorate the choir of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. We see Our Lady surrounded by a burst of light, looking upwards to the skies. Her cousin Elizabeth is bowing with prayerful hands. The inscription by Jouvenet in the bottom right hand corner reads ‘J. Jouvenet dextra paralyticus sinistra fecit 1716’, indicating that he painted this canvas with his left hand, as the right hand was paralysed.
It is an unusual composition, as most of the works of art which depict the Visitation would depict the embrace of Mary and Elizabeth. Here however that has already taken place and Our Lady turns towards the Lord and proclaims the Magnificat: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord…’. We feel Mary’s words and joyful energy bursting out of this canvas.
Today’s Gospel reading gives us the longest discourse recorded of Our Lady in Divine Revelation. It is therefore a very important reading. It reflects a perfect act of humility and profound adoration by Our Lady. Every evening during Vespers in seminary we sing this prayer. We are 36 of us singing Our Lady’s words together, and it is always a beautiful moment. The words teach us how much Mary loved God and about the way God has acted, and continues to act, in our human history. A poignant way of praying the Magnificat is to pray it along with Mary, and to identify with her feelings towards God and towards the child she is about to bring into the world… It is a moment in the day where Mary truly leads us…
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