PROPERTY FROM A BELGIAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
Since the attribution to Rogier had been dismissed by the early 20th century, this undeniably high-quality devotional panel has eluded an alternative firm attribution. What is certain is that the composition of this delightful panel bears comparison with the works of the Master of Frankfurt, an anonymous master working in Antwerp in the last decades of the 15th century, and the early decades of the 16th century. The Master of Frankfurt's chief importance lies in his continuing the great tradition of 15th century Netherlandish painting (particularly the compositions of Rogier van der Weyden and Hugo van der Goes) well into the 16th century, his development of a markedly earthy figure type, his apparently innovative management of a large workshop that produced paintings directly for the open market, and his status (along with his great contemporary, Quentin Massys) as a founder of the distinguished tradition of painting in Antwerp.
The Master of Frankfurt's eponymous work, the great Saint Anne Altarpiece, or Altarpiece of the Holy Kindred,3 of circa 1505, bears compositional and iconographic similarities with the present panel, as well as comparable smaller details such as the representation of God the Father at the top of the panel; the ornate carpet of foliage and inclusion of exotic headwear.
Between the years of about 1480 and 1520 images of Saint Anne were especially sought after. She was no longer seen merely as an intercessor, but due to her blood relationship with Christ, she was judged to have power in her own right to assist in the salvation of souls. Popular devotion of Saint Anne gave rise to a new iconographic type known as Anna Selbdritt. The phrase literally means 'Anne herself the third', or 'Anne makes three.' The structure of this iconographic motif derives from earlier medieval depictions of Mary with the Christ Child on her lap, known as the 'seat of wisdom' type. The figure of Saint Anne began to be added to this type during the late 13th century, the older woman most frequently presented as mature, and Mary sometimes portrayed as a child, or a smaller adult woman. Often the figures of Mary and Jesus were placed within the contours of the figure of Saint Anne, or her cloak, but here we see the mother and daughter given equal status, sitting side by side.4
1 See Deiters 2016, p. 132.
2 See Provenance.
3 See J.O. Hand, 'Saint Anne with the Virgin and the Christ Child by the Master of Frankfurt', Studies in the History of Art, vol. 12, 1982, p. 47, reproduced.
4 For further discussion of the iconography of the Anna Selbdritt see V. Nixon, The Anna Selbdritt in late medieval Germany: Meaning and function of a religious image, doctoral diss., Concordia University, Montreal 1997.
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