26 July is the Feast Day of Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary and patron saint of mothers, children, and homemakers.
Anne’s story took root in the second century CE Protoevangelium of Saint James, wherein he writes of the birth and life of the Virgin Mary. As the introduction to this narrative, he recounts the life of Anne, who bore her daughter, the Virgin Mary, at an advanced age through miraculous means.
Some of the earliest evidence of Saint Anne’s veneration comes in the form of an eighth-century CE fresco fragment in the Roman church of Santa Maria Antiqua. Her relics were disseminated around Europe at approximately that same time, only to be congregated in Düren, Germany, following a decree by Pope Julius II in the early sixteenth century. Saint Anne is also honored with the Church Sant’Anna de’ Palafrenieri, the parish church of Vatican City, and she has been a frequent participant – however peripheral – in scenes of the Virgin and Child throughout art history.
Virginia Nixon, Mary’s Mother: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Europe (Penn State University Press, 2013).
Masolino and Masaccio, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, 1425. Tempera on panel. 175 × 103 cm. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
Fra Filippo Lippi, Madonna and Child with Scenes from the Life of Saint Anne, 1452. Oil on panel. 135 cm diameter. Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence.
Leonardo da Vinci, The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, 1500-1513. Oil on poplar panel. Louvre Museum, Paris.
Bronzino, Holy Family with Saint Anne, 1545-1546. Oil on wood. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Caravaggio, Madonna dei Palafrenieri, 1606. Oil on canvas. 292 by 211 cm. Galleria Borghese, Rome.