The birth of John the Baptist had been prophesied to his aged father Zacharias by an angel. For his disbelief, Zacharias was temporarily struck dumb. He is shown writing John's name on a tablet; after this his speech was restored. New Testament (Luke 1: 59-63). The woman with a halo is presumably intended to be the Virgin although the Bible says she had left Saint Elizabeth's house before the birth.
There are two drawings by Barent Fabritius related to this work (Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie and Vienna, Albertina). The former is closest to the present composition.