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In St Luke’s gospel, Zacharias is sacrificing in a temple when he is visited by the archangel Gabriel. Gabriel tells him that, although his wife Elizabeth is past childbearing age, she will bear a child from God. He will grow up to become John the Baptist.

Spencer imagines the story in a garden behind his studio in Cookham. He wrote: ‘It was to be a painting characterizing and exactly expressing the life I was … living and seeing about me… to raise that life round me to what I felt was its true status, meaning and purpose.’

September 2004