Authors

Anonymous Flemish Master
(Antwerp - Brussels school)

Late 15th century-Early 16th century

Mary’s Genealogy. The Family of Saint Anne

These twin panels, whose dimensions, size and functions suggest a private devotional use, portray two complementary illustrated scenes. The painter depicts the story of Mary’s ancestry, which was established in the Old Testament and according to the writings of St John Damascene, told by Jacobus de Voragine in the Golden Legend, originated in the tribe of Judah and the line of David, specifically through that of Nathan.
The traditional image of the union of three generations appears as an effigy in the foreground. Mary, seated, holds baby Jesus who is haloed and in full-length view. Saint Anne is to the right with a breviary in her left hand, evoking the conventional iconography of her teaching Mary to read, and offers the child the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, thereby symbolising Jesus’ mission to redeem the world of Original Sin.
A wall placed in the middle ground and brocaded with gold isolates this calm scene from the serious conversation being held between three illustrious men, who emerge in the story as if in an imaginary theatrical set. Joseph, dressed in a red cloak and tunic, does not share the status and prominence of the three stern-faced dignitaries absorbed in debating their theses. The lack of features, except for their distinctive headdresses and a literal reading of the legends, prevents them from being identified. It is possible the character in the brimmed hat is Joachim, husband of Anne and father of the Virgin Mary, while the other two bring to mind the Magi, a view apparently confirmed by the crowned figure with the severe profile. God the Father is pictured in half-length view, haloed and wearing a Papal Tiara. He witnesses and blesses with the Holy Spirit and affirms, over a cloud pedestal and holding the globe which alludes to the world’s salvation, the concept of the Holy Trinity.
As a faithful rendition of this late medieval legend, the Marys appear in the same number as that of her direct descendants, in their role as mothers and supported by their husbands.
The theme was widely propagated in the 15th and 16th centuries throughout Germany and the Netherlands, but disappeared from the pictorial repertoire of the Nordic masters with the introduction of the Council of Trent’s new doctrines. The paintings in question, reflecting Marian adoration, must have formed part of a triptych of small dimensions, easily transportable and therefore often moved to personal oratories.

Mary’s Genealogy. The Family of Saint Anne

Mary’s Genealogy. The Family of Saint Anne