Madonna and child with St. Anne


Madonna and child with St. Anne
(c. 1508-1513; Paris, Louvre)
   Painted by Leonardo da Vinci for the high altar of the Church of Santisima Annunziata in Florence, the commission for this altarpiece originally went to Filippino Lippi, but Leonardo persuaded the friars of the Annunziata to give him the charge instead. In 1501, Leonardo provided a cartoon for the composition (original lost; another version in London, National Gallery) that proved too large for the altarpiece's intended frame. The cartoon was exhibited in the Annunziata monastery and Florentines flocked to see it, including Michelangelo and Raphael, both of whom were deeply affected by it. In the final composition, Leonardo arranged the figures to form a pyramid against an atmospheric landscape, the Virgin Mary sitting on St. Anne's lap and holding onto the Christ Child, who grabs a lamb by the neck and ear. Clearly, Christ's genealogy is one of the painting's main theme. Christ grabs the sacrificial lamb to herald the Passion, which Mary tries to prevent by holding him back. In the cartoon, St. Anne points upward as if to indicate to her daughter that Christ's sacrifice is the will of God and that it would be futile to intervene. In the painting, Leonardo omitted St. Anne's pointing gesture, though the melancholic tinge in her smile implies her recognition of Christ's future suffering. The cascade of movement from upper left to lower right, enhanced by Mary's graceful bend, is an enhancement to the original composition where mother and daughter sat almost side by side. Leonardo did not complete the work and, when he moved to France in 1517 to serve Francis I, he took the painting with him, along with his Mona Lisa (1503) and St. John the Baptist (c. 1513-1516; both Paris, Louvre), keeping it until his death in 1519 when it entered the French royal collection.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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