Rubens painted this devotional image when he was at the peak of his artistic, diplomatic and domestic career: elected chief of Antwerp’s painters, recently knighted by Britain’s Charles I and Spain’s Philip IV and happily remarried. Rubens originally included a figure of St Joseph, hunched next to the column behind Christ’s head, but painted it out in order to focus attention on the Virgin’s head. Antwerp was renowned for its cult of Mary and Rubens was a particularly devout follower. The change heightened the painting’s message of human and divine love conveyed through a continuous movement of gestures and glances between the Virgin, St Elizabeth and their respective sons. St John’s lamb, a symbol of Christ’s future sacrifice, looks out at us and encourages our thought and contemplation of the image and its message.