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Leonardo da Vinci - Saint Anna with Daughter Maria and baby son Jesus

by Alexandra Tuschka

A composition of three figures in front of a mountain landscape determines the picture. The lady in front bends to the Christ child, she sits on the lap of an older one - do both women have only one arm?

St. Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, was increasingly depicted in the visual arts from the 14th century onwards. "Anna selbdritt" is an established term for the depiction of a group consisting of St. Anne, Mary, and the infant Jesus. Anna is strikingly young.

Leonardo's painting depicts a serene mood. The women have smiling faces. Only the unhappy sheep, pulled by the playful boy, hints at its future role as a sacrificial lamb. In the background, we see a mountain landscape bathed in bluish tones. On the right, a tree protrudes into the picture. It is the only sign of living vegetation within the stony surroundings.

Anna's long-sleeved gray dress hints at her widowhood. Mary is painted in her classic colors - red and blue - yet both women are uncharacteristically unadorned.

The staggering of the figures has two levels of interpretation - on the one hand the composition illustrates the sequence of generations, on the other hand there is a layer of meaning in terms of content: Mary wants to prevent the Passion of Christ by separating the boy from the lamb, but the latter accepts his fate. Anna, however, is the silent observer of the scene and shows a melancholic and knowing smile.

Leonardo da Vinci - Saint Anna with Daughter Maria and baby son Jesus

Oil on canvas, 1505, 168 x 130 cm, Musée du Louvre in Paris


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