Ashampstead, Berkshire (†Oxford) C.13?
The Annunciation and the Visitation
These paintings complete the series of the Life of the Virgin/Infancy Cycle at Ashampstead. The Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds are already on the site, along with the later Doom.
At the left is the Annunciation, reduced to a fragmentary state now, but featuring a very interesting and unusual depiction of the dove of the Holy Ghost in dramatic profile, swooping down at the top left to touch the Virgin’s forehead. Otherwise, only Mary’s head, halo, upper torso and raised right hand are visible. She stands under an three-lobed canopy, with a glimpse of what are probably intended as pinnacled towers beyond, and there may once have been a reading-desk at the left of the scene.
Immediately to the right of the Annunciation and shown at the right here, is a Visitation in much better condition. As so often with this subject, it is difficult to be sure about the identity of the two figures, but Mary herself may be the slightly taller figure on the right, being greeted tenderly by her cousin Elizabeth, as at Dale Abbey.
The two women stand in a curtained alcove, with curtains drawn back, under a tripartite canopy, again with towers surmounting it, and a building beyond. Stylistically, the blend of ‘naturalistic’ and ceremonial presentation of the subject is one often found in English paintings of the Visitation.
As with all the 13th century work at Ashampstead, the quality of the paintings is high, and there are suggestions about possible reasons for this on the page dealing with the Nativity sequence. It is a pity that the Annunciation is so badly damaged, because I suspect that it might originally have been the most accomplished painting of all.
Website for St Clement’s, Ashampstead