Today, 26 July, is the Feast Day of St Anne, the mother of the Virgin. Anne and her husband Joaquin miraculously conceived the Virgin as they kissed before the Golden Gate of Jerusalem, after the apparition of an angel. Anne’s life is not narrated in the Bible and it first appears in apocryphal texts and then in Jacobus da Varagine’s Golden Legend. She is considered the protectress of mothers and women giving birth. Numerous convents and churches are dedicated to her.
Jacopo Pontormo’s Madonna and Child with St Anne and Saints Sebastian, Peter, Benedict and Philip 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.
Earlier famous representations of Saint Anne include Giotto’s episodes of the life of the Virgin in the Scrovegni Chapel, Masolino and Masaccio’s Virgin and Child with Sant’Anna Metterza and Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin and Child with St Anne.
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.
Michael Alan Anderson. St Anne in Renaissance Music: Devotion and Politics. CUP, 2014.
Vincent Delieuvin. Saint Anne: Leonardo da Vinci’s Ultimate Masterpiece. Officina Libraria, 2012.
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 representing the Signoria of Florence.
Giotto, Meeting at the Golden Gate, 1305, Cappella Scrovegni, Padua. Fresco.
Masolino and Masaccio, Sant’Anna Metterza, c. 1425, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Tempera on panel.
Leonardo da Vinci, Virgin and Child with St Anne, c.1510. Musée du Louvre, Paris. Oil on wood.