Today, 26 July, is the Feast Day of St Anne and this altarpiece of the Madonna and Child with St Anne and the Saints Sebastian, Peter, Benedict and Philip by Jacopo Pontormo (1494-1556) commemorates the successful revolt against a tyrant ruler that occurred on St Anne’s Day in 1343.
In September 1342, the Florentine government had appointed Walter of Brienne, Duke of Athens, as signore of the city. Brienne’s rule soon turned despotic, and following an uprising, he was expelled. The coinciding of the rebellion with the feast day led to Saint Anne being adopted as one of the main patron saints of Florence.
The captain of the Signoria, the republican city council of Florence, commissioned this work for the nuns of the convent of Sant’Anna in Verzaia, outside Porta San Frediano. Since 1370, an annual procession to celebrate Florentine liberty took place on the Saint’s feast day, conducted by the Signoria who paraded from their palazzo to the convent where the painting was displayed.
The Virgin, infant Jesus and Saint Anne are shown at centre, with St Peter on the left and Benedict on the right. The tondo beneath the feet of the Virgin conveys this work’s political meaning, in a rare depiction of the Signoria, shown in procession with banners and trumpets.
Baker, Nicholas Scott. The Fruit of Liberty: Political Culture in the Florentine Renaissance, 1480-1550. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press, 2013.
Crum, Roger J. and David G. Wilkins. “In Defense of Florentine Republicanism: Saint Anne and Florentine Art, 1343-1575.” In Interpreting Cultural Symbols: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Society, eds. K. Ashley and P. Sheinborn, 152-153. Athens, Ge: University of Georgia Press, 1990.
Krystof, Doris. Pontormo. Koln: Konemann, 1998.
Jacopo Pontormo, Madonna and Child with St Anne and the Saints Sebastian, Peter, Benedict and Philip, c. 1529, oil on wood, 228 x 176 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris.
Detail of above.