The Holy Family with Saint Anne

Southern Netherlands, Circa 1500
Linen warp, wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts; gold and silver yarn.
Metropolitan Museum of Art (95.181.15)

This work is described in detail in Cavallo, 342-46. The figures are identified by the writing along the bottom edge, which Cavallo transcribes as ANNA – OBEATA INFANCIA PER QUAM NOSTRI GENERIS EST VITA REPARATA – IOSEP, "Anne – O blessed infancy through which life is restored to our race – Joseph."

The child's attention is drawn not to the fruits offered by Joseph on the right but to the rose in Anne's right hand, a conventional symbol of Mary. The grapes symbolize the blood Jesus will shed on the cross and the wine that will be a memorial of that sacrifice. They appear frequently in images of the Christ Child in this period, as also in classical images of children. In a very similar tapestry of about the same year Joseph is also clean-shaven and hands grapes to the child, who squeezes their juice into a chalice. In other images of the time it will be Anne who offers the grapes or an apple (Cavallo, 344).

The apple is also frequently seen in Madonna and Child images. It appears to be an adaptation of an older iconography in which the child holds an orb representing his kingship. In this case, Cavallo refers to it as "the apple of original sin" – i.e., the sin of Adam and Eve.

An open book lies beneath St. Anne's left hand while on the parapet behind Joseph are a closed book and an unfolded scroll. These may express the closing of the Old Testament and opening of the New.

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Photographed at the museum by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.