The Visitation Ablation

In a remote corner of the spacious Medieval Sculpture Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is a 23 inch high religious woodcarving called "The Visitation."
Other than its title and date of construction, there is no indication anywhere in sight that this may be the most revolutionary work of art in the entire museum, or for that matter, in any other museum in America.

"The Visitation" was created in the year 1310 by a Dominican Monk named Master Heinrich, who carved it out of a solid block of walnut. It portrays the joyous meeting between two pregnant women. One was the Virgin Mary, carrying the unborn Jesus, and the other, her beloved cousin Elizabeth, carrying the fetus destined to become St. John the Baptist. Apparently carried away by the emotion-filled legend, Master Heinrich did something no other artist had ever done before. He carved oval recesses in the bodies of both women within which he placed tiny sculptured figures of their unborn infants.

Yet when "The Visitation" was acquired by the Met in 1917, both infants were missing and the oval recesses had been sealed up. To this day, the museum authorities claim to have no knowledge of where the babies were or why they had been removed. Since the paint & gilding were almost completely intact, Gardner suspected foul play and consulted an expert authority, Ernst Kitringer and his book "Early Medieval Art."

"In those days," Kitringer wrote, "the Church considered any kind of art to be a source of idolatry and paganistic excess." Sculptured figures were reluctantly accepted only on the immutable condition that "such art must subordinate images of the material world to a spiritual and transcendent order of which the Church is the center and the guardian." It seems obvious that babies floating inside their mothers' bellies revealed a bit too much of the "material world" for the Church to condone.

Despite the Met's non-committal attitude, Gardner is convinced that both babies had been deliberately removed and the oval recesses filled with crystal cabochons to make them look like decorative pendants. Gardner was so incensed by the babies removal that he felt obliged to recreate Master Heinrich's original masterpiece in his own contemporary way called, "The Visitation Revisited," cast in solid bronze. The two infants are now both safely back in their mothers' wombs, right where they belong.