Saturday, July 23, 2011

Glorious St. Anne – Iconography of St. Anne, Day 7 – St. Anne, Grandmother

Charles LeBrun, Holy Family
French, 1655
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Today, when they think of St. Anne, the image that occurs to most 21st-century people is that of mother and grandmother, a kindly figure depicted with her daughter or as an addition to the familiar Holy Family group. But, as we have seen this was not always the case, especially in Northern Europe.

How the figure of St. Anne evolved from the huge and powerful St. Anne of the Anna selbdritt to the grandmotherly figure of the   17th and later centuries may be followed fairly well from surviving paintings and statues.

In her book, Mary’s Mother: St. Anne in Late Medieval Europe Virginia Nixon distinguishes two different types of the Anna selbdritt. The first, in which Anne encompasses both the figures of Mary and Jesus we have already looked at. The second type, which Prof. Nixon calls the “bench type” shows Anne and Mary seated together on the same level, as if on a bench. 1  Jesus is sometimes shown as seated or held by Mary, sometimes by Anne, and sometimes He appears between them. Some examples are shown below:

Master of the Beaufort Saints, Madonna and Child with St. Anne
Prayers added to the Beaufort-Beauchamp Hours
English (London), 1401-1415
London, British Library,
MS Royal 2A XVIII, fol.13v 

Master of the Gold Scrolls, Madonna and Child with St. Anne
from Book of Hours, Use of Sarum (Salisbury)
South Netherlands, 1425-1450
London, British Library
MS Harley 2846, fol. 40v

Nicholas Gerhaert van Leyden, Madonna and
Child with St. Anne
German, 1475-1495
Berlin, Deutsches Museum

Master of the Housebook, Madonna and Child
with St. Anne
German, 1490
Oklenburg, Landesmuseum

Madonna and Child with St. Anne
Flemish, Carved Walnut,
Early 16th Century
Sold at Christie's, Amsterdam
March 22-23, 2011

From these and other examples, especially those which show an interaction between Child and Grandmother, the later images of St. Anne develop. In addition, the image of Anne herself began to change. She began to age so that, from the vigorous maturity of her image in the late 15th century, by 1600 she had become an elderly woman.  

Cornelis Engelbrechtsz, Madonna and Child with St. Anne
Dutch, 1500
Berlin, Staatliches Museen

Madonna and Child with St. Anne
from Book of Hours (Sarum use)
South Netherlands (Bruges), ca. 1500
London, British LIbrary
MS King's 9, fol.53v

Madonna and Child with St. Anne
Miniature added to Book of Hours
Dutch, 1500-1550
London, British Library
MS Harley 2896, fol. 14

Andrea Sansovino, Madonna and Child with St. Anne
Italian, 1512
Rome, S. Agostino

She also began to move from a primary role to a secondary one. In many instances the key position that she held around 1500 had become, by the beginning of the next century, a subsidiary one. From the forefront of the picture, she began to move to the side or to the background.  
El Greco, Holy Family with St. Anne
Greco-Spanish, c. 1595
Toledo, Hospital Tavera

Bronzino, Holy Family with St. Anne
and St. John the Baptist
Italian, 1534-1540
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

During that same time her former position was assumed by the figure of St. Joseph. Joseph, who up to that time had been presented (when presented at all) in the subordinate role, begins to move forward and to grow younger as Anne recedes and grows older. 

Rubens, Holy Family with St. Anne
Flemish, c. 1630
Madrid, Museo del Prado

Jusepe de Ribera, Holy Family with Saint Anne and
Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Spanish, 1649
New  York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Sebastian Bourdon, Holy Family with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist
French, c. 1650
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

By the end of the 17th century the Holy Family as we now think of it, comprising Jesus, Mary and Joseph, had taken form.

Murillo, The Two Trinities
Spanish, 1675-1682
London, National Gallery

The more recent images of St. Anne show her solely in her role as mother, accompanied only by Mary. 
St. Anne, Quebec, Ste. Anne de Beaupre,
Chapel of St. Anne

St. Anne
20th Century
New York, St. Jean Baptiste Church

Although, in some ways, this seems a stripping of her former mystique in others it brings us back full circle to the St. Annes of the 14th and 15th centuries, for Mary, her daughter, is the Mother of the Word Incarnate.

1. Virginia Nixon. Mary’s Mother: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Europe, University Park, PA, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004, p. 137.

© M. Duffy, 2011/2012

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