The Visitation, 1640 by Rembrandt

In 1640, Rembrandt executed his sole depiction of the Visitation, an exquisite small-scale panel showing the Virgin greeting Elizabeth, sharing the news that both are about to give birth. As the two women embrace, Elizabeth's husband, Zacharias, shuffles down the stairs assisted by a youth and Joseph, leading a donkey, ascends at the right. What prompted the picture is, of course, unknown, although given the fact that the theme was rare in the United Provinces and that Rembrandt never treated it again in any medium, it may well have been a commission. But it has also been noted that the figure of Elizabeth bears a resemblance to Rembrandt's mother - who died in the year the picture was painted - and that Saskia herself was expecting a child in the same year.

Two years later, in 1642, Rembrandt painted the Parting of Farewell of David and Jonathan, showing the two friends embracing as David departs for Bethlehem to escape the wrath of Jonathan's father, Saul, who is intent on killing him (I Samuel 20:41-42; Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, vi, 11, 10). Acquired for Peter the Great at an auction in Amsterdam in 1716 as a David and Jonathan, this picture has since also been known as a Return of the Prodigal Son, a Reconciliation of David and Absalom or Jacob and Esau or even of David and Mephibosheth. Whatever the precise identification - and, as so often, Rembrandt has not chosen to be more specific - one factor is indisputable. The picture portrays a tender embrace between two men much as the Visitation does between two women