Geertgen tot Sint-Jans
The Holy Kinship

Haarlem, 1495
Oil on oak, 54 x 41.7 in. (137.2 x 105.8 cm.)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

On the left is St. Anne, with Mary and the Christ Child next to her. Joachim and Joseph stand behind them with a young boy. The boy may be the son of Joseph who the Protevangelium says was with the Holy Family on the Flight into Egypt.

The other men of the extended family gather around the altar in the background, a reference to the Golden Legend's claim that they were all members of both the royal line of David and the priestly line of Levi.

In the right foreground Elizabeth holds the infant John the Baptist. As in some other Holy Kinships of this era, the child reaches out toward Jesus, a reminder of his leaping in the womb in Luke 1:41.

Behind Elizabeth are Mary Salome and Mary Cleophas, the two half-sisters of the Virgin. The museum identifies their children playing before the altar as the apostles-to-be Simon, James, and John and the altar boy lighting a candle atop the choir screen as Jude Thaddeus.

Detail: the altar and choir screen.
The screen itself is carved with two images from Genesis, Eve's offering the fruit to Adam and their expulsion from Eden. Eve's long, curly hair is echoed by the Virgin Mary's in the foreground, a reminder that she is the "new Eve."

There is an eloquent contrast between the statue group on the altar and the expulsion relief on the screen. On the altar, Isaac prayerfully submits as the sword is raised. On the screen, Adam defiantly raises his right hand against the angel's sword while his left struggles to hold the fig leaf in place.

Read more about the Holy Kinship and about St. Anne.

Source: Wikimedia Commons