Monday, July 25, 2011

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

Dante's Celestial Rose
Italian, 15th century illumination,
Vatican, Vatican Library

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.
Diagram of the Rose, from
Sayers, Paradiso, 1962 1

 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)
She is located on the same level as St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, St. 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 St. Anne frequently appears in works that depict the Madonna and Child along with other saints.

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

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 St. Anne, St. Francis and the Young St. 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 St. Anne and St. 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 St. Anne and Other Saints
Italian, 1529
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Lorenzo Lotto, Madonna and Child with St. Anne, St. Jerome and a Donor
Italian, 1534
 Florence, Uffizi Gallery

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

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