St Anne with the Virgin and Christ Child

Rhine-Maas-Area (Cologne or Lüttich)
ca. 1290

Oakwood, original polychromy, retouched
Height 82.2 cm



In the late Middle Ages, St Anne with her daughter Mary and grandson Jesus Christ represented one of the most common pictorial themes, often as the centre of the Holy Kinship, surrounded by Anne’s husbands, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. The worship of Anne reached its heyday in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. During the early period of her cult, beginning in the twelfth century, groups of St Anne with the Virgin and Child were rare, and the sculpture in Frankfurt, which dates from the late thirteenth century, is one of the few early examples.

Moreover, its pictorial solution seems to be unique. For while the other comparably early renderings have the Virgin and the Christ Child sitting on the arm of the standing or enthroned Anne, here Mary’s mother is standing next to her daughter and leading her by the hand. This solution has yet to be found anywhere else. The childlike scale of Mary, for its part, was common until the sixteenth century. In general, such groups serve to lend ex ression to the belief in Anne’s virginity—which, before ultimately becoming a consensus of faith, was long debated as a prerequisite for the immaculate conception experienced by her daughter—by showing a close connection between the figures.

In the case of the Liebieghaus group, there is something more involved: as a kind of pendant to the book that Anne holds in her right hand, Mary is carrying her son on her left arm. This juxtaposition bears reference to the Christian pictorial doctrine that the book should be understood as logos, the divine meaning behind creation that culminates in the incarnation of Jesus Christ and, closely associated with it, mankind’s redemption from sin.