Sunday, July 24, 2011

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

Quentin Massys (or Metsys), Holy Kindred
Belgian, 1507-1508
Brussels, Musees 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 St. 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 St. 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, Holy Kindred
Dutch, 1485-1495
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

Holy Kindred from Book of Hours
France (Paris), 1490-1500
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M.70, fol. 7 (detail)
Here we see a completely feminine version of the Holy
Kindred.  St. 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).

Holy Kindred
South German, 1480-1490
Washington, D.C., National Gallery

The key to understanding the Holy Kindred pictures is the legend that St. 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 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, Holy Kindred
German, 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 St. 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, Holy Kindred
Flemish, 1585
Ghent, Museum voor Schone Kunsten

When everyone is present the Holy Kinship may include up to 30 people. Moreover, 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, 1480-1500
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS MMW 10 F 5, fol.82v
Master of the Legend of St. Anne
Dutch, 1475
Philadelphia, Museum of Art

Early in the sequence is the anonymous triptych called The Family of St. Anne in Ghent in which St. 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 St. 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 St. Anne images.  

Workshop of Jean II Penicaud, Lineage of St. 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.

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.

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, Holy Kinship Triptych
German, 1509
Frankfurt, Staedelsches Kunstinstitut

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Holy Kinship
German, 1510-1512
Vienna, Gemaeldegalerie der Akademie der
bildenden Kuenste

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.    

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

Jordaens, Holy Family with St. Anne, the
Young St. John the Baptist and Sts. Elizabeth
and Zacharias
Flemish, 1620-1625, Reworked 1650-1660
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
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 St. Anne, Sts. Elizabeth and Zacharias and their young son, St. 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.

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

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