Friday, July 29, 2011

Saint Martha, Worried About Many Things

Cornelis Engebrechtsz, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Dutch, c. 1515
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

July 29 is the feast day of St. Martha. She is mentioned twice in the New Testament but, in spite of the fact that one of the greatest of the “I AM” statements of Jesus concerning Himself is addressed to her, she has largely been remembered for the other time He addressed her. Poor Martha, she has received, as the saying goes “a bum rap”, especially when it comes to the visual record.

Martha is, of course, one of the sisters of Lazarus who lived in Bethany, outside Jerusalem. She appears in the Gospel of Luke in the story of Jesus' visit to her house.   One can imagine how daunting this could be for the owner family, to have a famous man and his disciples arrive, needing to provide water to wash and food and drink for the guests.  It would have been a case of "all hands on deck".  However, instead of helping with the hostess work her sister, Mary, sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to him. Then,
"Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
"Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me."
The Lord said to her in reply,
"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her." (Luke 10:38-42)

So, Martha has come down to us as the woman who was reprimanded by Jesus for paying too much attention to the details and chores of daily living. She is often seen as the representative of the “active” life, as opposed to her sister, Mary (sometimes identified with Mary Magdalene), who represents the “contemplative” life. As the contemplative life was usually considered to be the higher calling, Mary appears to be the favored one.

But Martha also appears in another episode from the Gospel of John, where she beseeches Jesus to do something about the death of her brother, Lazarus.
"When Martha heard that Jesus was coming,
she went to meet him;
but Mary sat at home.
Martha said to Jesus,
"Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.
But even now I know that whatever you ask of God,
God will give you."
Jesus said to her,
"Your brother will rise."
Martha said to him,
"I know he will rise,
in the resurrection on the last day."
Jesus told her,
"I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?"
She said to him, "Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world." (John 11:20-27)

So, it is Martha, the active one, who, along with Peter, declares and confesses who Jesus actually is.

However, it is the first of these two readings that has primarily been portrayed artistically. Images of Christ in the house of Martha and Mary have been painted many times, primarily during the seventeenth century. Examples abound from both the Protestant and Catholic countries.

Tintoretto, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Italian, 1570-1575
Munich, Bayerische Stratagemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek

Ambrosius Francken, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
From Thesaurus Novi Testamenti elegantissimis iconibus express continens historias atque miracula domini nostri Jesu Christe
Flemish, 1580
London, Trustees of the British Museum

Alessandro Allori, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Italian, 1605
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Gerard Seghers, Jesus in the House of Martha and Mary
Flemish, c. 1620
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Younger, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Flemish, c. 1628
Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland

Johannes Vermeer, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Dutch, c. 1654-1656
Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery

Jean Jouvenet, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
French, c. 1688
Paris, Musée du Louvre

James Tissot, Christ in the House of Mary and Martha at Bethany
French, c. 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum

One feature of some of these images is the concentration on an abundance of food, even a slightly chaotic abundance, often relegating the scene of Jesus with Mary and Martha to the distant background.  Indeed, some painters made this idea one of their favorites.

Joachim Beuckelaer, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Flemish, c. 1565
Brusssels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts

Joachim Beuckelaer, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Flemish, 1568
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Vincenzo Campi, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Italian, late 16th century
Modena, Galleria Estense

Presumably the image of a woman concerned with being a hostess and seeing that everything was “perfect” for her guest led the painters to present their own ideas about what a successful visit would look like.

 Diego Velazquez, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Spanish, c. 1620
London, National Gallery

But, of course, there is also a deeper meaning. These displays of abundance are also a reminder of the bounty of the world and a foretaste of the bounty to be expected in the heavenly kingdom.

Pieter de Bloot, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Dutch, 1637
Vienna, Leichtentstein Museum

By contrast, very few images of the Raising of Lazarus include Martha’s special part in the story. In most images the two sisters are shown as prayerful onlookers at the miracle, as Lazarus emerges from the tomb.

Giotto, Raising of Lazarus
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Arena/Scrovegni Chapel

 I was only able to find one image that specifically refers to Martha’s action. The late fifteenth-century painter, Nicolas Froment, depicts Martha’s plea before the actual raising in the left panel of his triptych of the Raising of Lazarus now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. 
Nicolas Froment, Raising of Lazarus Triptych
French, 1461
Florence, Uffizi Gallery

Clearly, it is the raising of Lazarus itself that is meant to recall the words of Jesus “I am the resurrection and the life”, not the scene in which Martha’s words elicit this great statement.

But it is comforting to know that it is Martha, the one who, because she is “anxious and worried about many things” and thus is most like the majority of us, is also the one who is able to confess “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world”.  She is our representative.

© M. Duffy, 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

Glorious Saint Anne – Iconography of Saint Anne, Feast Day, July 26 – Saint Anne, Patron and Intercessor

Masters of the Dark Eyes, Anna Geperts and Her Daughter
from a Prayer Book
Dutch or Flemish, ca. 1500
The Hague, Koninlijk Bibliothek,
MS KB 135 E 19, fol.1v

Most modern people encounter Saint Anne, not through a visual or written source, but through a name – Anne, Ann, Anna, Hannah, Aña, Aine, Anya and countless other variations. Of all the people who bear her name and of the churches, schools and other institutions named after her, she is the Patron Saint.

She is also the Patroness of: grandmothers, women who have trouble conceiving, unmarried women (hence the pseudo-prayer “Saint Anne, Saint Anne, find me a man”), miners, the French region of Brittany (which takes in the shrine of Sainte Anne d'Auray with its famous “pardon” or pilgrimage in her honor) and the Canadian province of Quebec, with its major shrine at Sainte Anne de Beaupre.

In many works of late medieval art women named Anne requested that their own portraits be added as donor images. In these works they are shown kneeling before her in prayer.

Madonna and Child with St. Anne
from Hours of Pierre de Bosredont
France (Langres), ca. 1465
New York, Morgan Library
MS G.55, fol. 112v

They frequently also requested a closer relationship with Saint Anne. In these cases they are shown kneeling in prayer before the the central image of the work of art as Saint Anne presents them to that central subject (often a Madonna and Child or scene of the Crucifixion).
Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula, Anna Nieuwenhove Presented by Saint Anne
Flemish, late 15th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lehman Collection

Jean Bourdichon, Anne de Bretagne in Prayer Accompanied by Her Patron Saints
from Grandes Heures d'Anne de Bretagne
France (Tours), 1503-1508
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9474, fol. 3
Here St. Anne appears alongside two royal saints as patrons of Anne de Bretagne, Duchess of Brittany
and twice Queen of France (consort to Charles VIII and Louis XII).

These images demonstrate Saint Anne’s role as intercessor for those who claim her as their Patron or for those who request her prayers.
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Saint Anne with Donor
German, ca. 1514
Pedralbes, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection

The Catholic doctrine of intercession is frequently misunderstood by non-Catholics (and some Catholics). It is based on the Christian belief in the Communion of Saints, the union of all the faithful, living and dead, in Christ.

As the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states regarding the Communion of Saints:

 “This expression also refers to the communion between holy persons (sancti); that is, between those who by grace are united to the dead and risen Christ. Some are pilgrims on the earth; others, having passed from this life, are undergoing purification and are helped also by our prayers. Others already enjoy the glory of God and intercede for us. All of these together form in Christ one family, the Church, to the praise and glory of the Trinity.” 1

Since all members of the Communion are alive in Christ, “death no longer has power” (Romans 6:9). So, just as we can request the intercessory prayer of persons still living in this world, we can request the intercessory prayers of those who, having passed from this life, live now in “the glory of God” (see above).

There is no “now” and no “then” in God. In 2011, we can request the intercession of Saint Anne just as readily as our predecessors of 500 years ago, such as does Anna Nieuwenhove in a painting by the Master of the Saint Ursula Legend (above) or her contemporary Anne de Valois (also known as Anne de France) in the beautiful Bourbon Altarpiece by the Master of Moulins (identified as Jean Hey) or as readily as we can request the intercessory prayer of our own contemporary friend named Anne. 

Master of Moulins (Jean Hey), Bourbon Altarpiece
French, ca. 1498
Moulins, Cathedral

Master of Moulins (Jean Hey). Saint Anne with Anne de Valois
Detail of  the Bourbon Altarpiece
French, ca. 1498
Moulins, Cathedral
So, on this feast of Saints Joachim and Anne it is fitting to close with this prayer to Saint Anne:

O glorious Saint Anne, you are filled with compassion for those who invoke you, and with love for those who suffer. Heavily burdened with the weight of my troubles, I cast myself at your feet and humbly beg of you to take the present intention, which I recommend to you in your special care.

Please recommend it to your daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and place it before the throne of Jesus, so that He may bring it to a happy issue.

Continue to intercede for me until my request is granted. But, above all, obtain for me the grace on day to see my God face to face, and with you and Mary and all the saints to praise and bless him for all eternity. Amen.

 Saints Anne and Joachim, pray for us.

Anonymous Alabaster Carver, Mary with Saints
Anne and Joachim
English, 15th Century
New  York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Joos van Cleve, Madonna and Child with Saints Joachim 
and Anne
Flemish, 1541
Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts


1. Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Vatican, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2005, #195

© M. Duffy, 2011

Glorious Saint Anne – Iconography of Saint Anne, Day 9 – Saint Anne in the Communion of Saints

Guglielmo Girarldi and Workshop,The Celestial Rose
From the Divina Comedia by Dante Alighieri
(made for Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino)
Italian (Urbino), c. 1474-1478
Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana
MS Urb. lat. 365, fol. 286v 

One of the distinctive beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church is something called the "Communion of Saints".  This is the belief that all the faithful, living and dead, form part of a Body of which the Head is Christ. Since there is no “now” and no “then” in God all members of the Communion are alive in Christ, “death no longer has power” (Romans 6:9). 

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains "When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating 'in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is". 1

On the merits of her position as grandmother of the Savior Anne is an honored member of that portion of the Communion of Saints that is in the Presence of God.

Her place in this Communion is an exalted one. In Paradiso, the final book of his Divine Comedy Dante Alighieri places St. Anne among the highest ranks of the Blessed in his image of the Celestial Rose. (Paradiso, Canto XXXII)
Diagram of the Rose, from Sayers, Paradiso, 1962 1
She is located on the same level as Saint John the Baptist, Saint Peter, Saint John and Moses.

Diagonal to Peter there see Anna,
Gazing upon her daughter in such content
Her look ne’er falters while she sings Hosanna. 2

In art Saint Anne frequently appears in works that depict the Madonna and Child along with other saints.

Ercole de Roberti, Madonna and Child with Saint Anne and Other Saints
Italian, 1480
Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera

She is most often pictured as attendant on them, sometimes clearly visible with them, as in the paintings by Ercole de Roberti and Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens, Holy Family with Saint Anne, Saint Francis and the Young Saint John the Baptist
Flemish, ca. 1630s
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

but is sometimes deep in the shadowed background, as in this painting by Jusepe Ribera.

Jusepe Ribera, Holy Family with Saint Anne and Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Spanish, 1648
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

In some, such as in these paintings by Pontormo and Lorenzo Lotto, she is still physically in contact with Mary.

Jacopo Pontormo, Madonna and Child with Saint Anne and Other Saints
Italian, 1529
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Lorenzo Lotto, Madonna and Child with Saint Anne, Saint Jerome and a Donor
Italian, 1534
 Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi 

Occasionally, she appears independently in the ranks of other saints. One interesting example shows her in a group of saints that includes Saint Christopher, Saint Gereon of Cologne and Saint Peter. Here Mary and Jesus are presented as though they were attributes (aids to identification) just like the Christ Child on Saint Christopher’s shoulders or the keys and tiara of Saint Peter.
Anonymous, Saints Christopher, Gereon of Colgne, Peter and Anne
German, c. 1480
Cologne, Wallraf-Richertz Museum

Another image of Anne appears in a curious work by Giovanni Maria Butteri.

Giovanni Butteri, Madonna and Child with Saint Anne and Members of the Medici Family as Saints
Italian, 1575
Florence, Museo della Cenacola di Andrea del Sarto

Here Anne dominates an image of the Madonna and Child surrounded by members of the Florentine ruling family, the Medici, masquerading as several saints. Among the identified portraits are Eleonora de Toledo as Mary and her husband, Duke Cosimo I as Saint Cosmas, both deceased at the time the work was painted. Other saints in the group have also been identified with various then-living members of the family.3  


  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 1993, Part 1, Section 2, Chapter 3, Article 9, Paragraph 5, Item 2, Number 954.
  2. Canto XXXII, verses 133-135. The Comedy of Dante Alighieri the Florentine, Cantica III (Il Paradiso) (translated by Sayers, Dorothy L. and Reynolds, Barbara), London, Penguin Books, 1962.
  3.  Murphy, Caroline. Murder of a Medici Princess, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp.264-265

© M. Duffy, 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Glorious Saint Anne – Iconography of Saint Anne, Day 8 – Saint Anne, Matriarch of the Holy Kindred

Quentin Massys (or Metsys), The Holy Kindred
Flemish, c. 1507-1508
Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts
One day back in the 1970s, during my first semester in graduate school, I was doing research for one of my classes at the Frick Art Reference Library in New York. One of the distinctive features of the Frick, especially vital in those pre-web days, was (and still is) their unique photo archive. The current Frick Art Reference Library website states that there are now more than one million images of works of art available in it.

While sifting through some of the archive boxes for images related to my grad school paper I came across several images of a type I had never seen till then. They appeared to be of a large family group composed of men, women and children. Several members of the group had haloes. The labels identified the subject as “The Holy Kindred” and either listed the name of a specific Dutch or Belgian artist or said something like “Anonymous Antwerp Mannerist”. I had never heard of the “Holy Kindred” as a subject. Who or what was it?

Looking more closely I recognized a few of the figures. Mary and Jesus were clearly the central figures of the group and I surmised that the older woman with them might be Saint Anne. If Mary and Jesus and Anne were there, then Joseph and Joachim were probably two of the men. But who were all the others?

Since these images had nothing whatever to do with the topic I was researching, I simply filed the images and my questions in my mind for future reference – and then forgot all about them. Over the decades since I have occasionally seen similar paintings and one or two sculptures. These images have also been “filed for future reference”. Well, the future has finally arrived.
The “Holy Kindred” or “Holy Kinship” is the title given to works of art that show the supposed extended family of Jesus. The theme originates in the same places as the rest of the tales of Saint Anne, with works such as the Golden Legend. 1 Drawing on a few personal references found in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles the writers of such works constructed a family tree, incorporating the persons named, and thus gave Jesus an entire web of family connections.

Geertgen tot Sint Jans, The Holy Kindred
Dutch, c. 1485-1495
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

The Holy Kindred
From a Book of Hours
France (Paris), 15th Century
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M.70, fol. 7 (detail)
Here we see a completely feminine version of the Holy Kindred. Saint Anne is seen with her three daughters, Mary Cleophas, Mary Salome and the Virgin Mary. The two elder daughters are accompanied by their sons, St. James the Less (with his pilgrim symbols) and St. John the Evangelist (with his symbol of the serpent emerging from a chalice).

The key to understanding the Holy Kindred pictures is the legend that Saint Anne married three times (the trinubium) and that from each marriage she gave birth to one daughter, whom she named Mary.  By her first husband, Cleophas (who, coincidentally, was supposed to be Joseph’s brother), she bore Mary Cleophas and by her second husband, Salome, she bore Mary Salome. By Joachim, her third husband, she bore the Virgin Mary.2

The Holy Kindred
South German, c. 1480-1490
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art


The Virgin Mary, of course, gave birth to Jesus by the Holy Spirit. But, the other two daughters were said to have married and produced children in the usual way. Mary Cleophas supposedly married Alphaeus and had four sons. Her children were supposed to be: Saints James the Less, Joseph the Just, Simon and Jude. Mary Salome was thought to have married Zebedee and had two supposed children: Saints James the Great and John the Evangelist.

Master of the Holy Kindred, The Holy Kindred
German, c. 1505-1510
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Musum
These are the members of the family groups seen in most of the Holy Kindred images. However, some images go further and incorporate an even more extended family which may include Anne’s mother and father, who are given the names Emerantia and Stollanus, and their other daughters, who are called Hismeria and Elind, and their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Hismeria’s daughter is thought to be Elizabeth, and she has with her, her husband Zacharias, and their son Saint John the Baptist.

Elind married also and supposedly had a son called Eminen. He is said to have married a woman named Memelia and produced a son who became Saint Servatius “whose body lieth in Maestricht, upon the river of the Meuse, in the bishopric of Liege”, 1 giving him a close connection with the Low Countries where most of these works were produced. 

Martin de Vos, The Holy Kindred
Flemish, 1585
Ghent, Museum voor Schone Kunsten


When everyone is present the Holy Kinship may include up to 30 people. However, a work showing just Mary, Anne and Jesus “with the addition of St. Joseph is not a Holy Kinship.”3

The iconography of these images derives from the Anna selbdritt image, usually from the “bench type”, in which Mary and Anne are seated side-by-side.4

They flourished mainly between 1470 and about 1550. Numerous examples exist in both painting and sculpture, primarily in the Low Countries and Germany.

Although most derive from the “bench type” of Anna selbdritt there are a few interesting variations. 

Master of the Suffrages. Anna Selbdritt with Joachim and Joseph
Dutch, c. 1480-1500
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS MMW 10 F 5, fol.82v 

Master of the Legend of Saint Anne, The Holy Kindred
Dutch, 1475
Philadelphia, Museum of Art

Early in the sequence is the anonymous triptych called The Family of Saint Anne in Ghent in which Saint Anne is enthroned among her family, occupying a higher plane than the Holy Family, who sit below her on the ground.

Anonymous, Triptych with the Family of Saint Anne
Dutch, 1490s
Ghent, Museum voor Schone Kunsten
Each adult family member is helpfully labeled so that we see the family of Mary Salome and Zebedee in the left wing and that of Alphaeus and Mary Cleophas in the right wing. Although slightly differing in composition from the “Sedes Sapientiae” type of Anna selbdritt, this painting definitely belongs to the tradition of these powerful, matriarchal Saint Anne images.  

Workshop of Jean II Penicaud, Lineage of Saint Anne
French, 1531-1549
New York, Frick Collection

Also interesting is a rare Italian version, known as the Family of the Virgin by Lorenzo Fasolo from Pavia in Northern Italy. Here, although Anne, Mary and Jesus are still clearly the focus, we find a more “democratic” arrangement of the same family members, with many of the heads placed on the same level.

Lorenzo Fasolo, The Family of the Virgin
Italian, 1513
Paris, Musée du Louvre

From Southern Germany, possibly Hildesheim, comes a statue now in the Metropolitan Museum that includes Anne’s mother, Emerantia, as well as Anne, Mary and Jesus. Here Emerantia is the dominant figure, the root of the tree.

The Virgin and Child, Saint Anne, and Saint Emerentia
German, c. 1515–1530
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

In early 16th-century Germany, on the very eve of the Reformation, we find two interesting examples by the same painter, Lucas Cranach the Elder.   His Holy Kinship triptych of 1509 shows a traditional, if somewhat relaxed, grouping.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, The Holy Kinship Triptych
German, 1509
Frankfurt, Städel Museum

However, his Holy Kinship of 1510-1512 is much more informal and shows the various holy families in a purely domestic setting, with each family engaged in activities within itself, not as part of a big family group. Interestingly in this picture, true to an older tradition, St. Joseph has no part in the holiest of these families. He sits remote from Mary and Jesus. His position in the family is held by St. Anne. 

Lucas Cranach the Elder, The Holy Kinship
German, c. 1510-1512
Vienna, Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste

After about 1525 this image type began to fade out of existence under the twin impulses of the Protestant Reformation and the slightly later Catholic Counter-Reform. 

In the Protestant areas of northern Germany and Holland this was the result of Protestant emphasis on text rather than image and Protestant distrust of both traditions and Tradition.  

In the Catholic countries, south Germany and Flanders, it was the result of the Counter-Reformation pruning of doubtful traditions in order to maintain true Tradition, which resulted in a simplification of subject matter and a suppression of the imaginative world of the Middle Ages.

Master of the Erfurt Adoration of the Magi, The Holy Kinship
German, c. 1520-1530 (restored 1913)
Erfurt, Protestant Church of St. Gregory

There is one curious example, however, that should be noted. In the 1620s the Flemish Jacob Jordaens painted (and reworked in the 1650s) a Holy Family that, because of its inclusion of Saint Anne, Saints Elizabeth and Zacharias and their young son, Saint John the Baptist, is a distant echo of the Holy Kindred.   But it is far from the static, matriarchal composition of the works of a century earlier.

Jacob Jordaens, The Holy Family with Saint Anne, the Young Saint John the Baptist and Saints Elizabeth and Zacharias
Flemish, c. 1620-1625, Reworked 1650-1660
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Jordaens painting, whether consciously or not, is a reference to something that no longer had any power and in which there was little interest on either side of the European religious divide.

By 1975 images of this type were so far in the past that my first sight of them left me, after 22 years of Catholic living and 16 years of Catholic school, just as puzzled by them as if I had never heard of St. Anne. Finding out about their meaning has opened a window onto a vanished world of pious legend and has definitely been worth the look.

1. The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints. Compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, 1275. First Edition Published 1470. Englished by William Caxton, First Edition 1483, Edited by F.S. Ellis, Temple Classics, 1900 (Reprinted 1922, 1931.), Vol. 5, pages 47-54.

2. These other Marys are identical with two of the “Three Marys” who went to the tomb of Jesus on the morning of the Resurrection (Mark 16:1, Luke 24).

3. Nixon, Virginia. Mary’s Mother: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Europe, University Park, PA, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004, p. 152.

4. Nixon, ibid. p. 137.

© M. Duffy, 2011/2012

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Glorious Saint Anne – Iconography of Saint Anne, Day 7 – Saint Anne, Grandmother

Charles LeBrun, The Sleeping Infant Jesus or Silence
French, 1655
Paris, Musée du Louvre

Today, when they think of Saint 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 Saint Anne evolved from the huge and powerful Saint 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: Saint 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 Saint 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 Saint Anne
From a Book of Hours
South Netherlands, 1425-1450
London, British Library
MS Harley 2846, fol. 40v

Nicholas Gerhaert van Leyden, Madonna and Child with Saint Anne
German, 1475-1495
Berlin, Bode Museum

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

Madonna and Child with Saint 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 Saint 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 Saint Anne
Dutch, 1500
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliches Museen zu Berlin

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

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

Andrea Sansovino, Madonna and Child with Saint Anne
Italian, 1512
Rome, Church of Sant'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 Saint Anne
Greco-Spanish, c. 1595
Toledo, Hospital Tavera

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

During that same time her former position was assumed by the figure of Saint 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 Saint Anne
Flemish, c. 1630
Madrid, Museo Nacional 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 Saint Anne and Saint 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, c. 1675-1682
London, National Gallery

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

Saint Anne
20th Century
New York, Church of Saint Jean Baptiste

Although, in some ways, this seems a stripping of her former mystique in others it brings us back full circle to the Saint Anne images 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