SAINT ANNE AND JOACHIM WITH LITTLE MARY
Francesco Mancini (1732), Church of Saint Teresa in Perugia, Italy
In this painting we see Mary as a young child with her parents, Saints Anne and Joachim. Although Saint Anne and Saint Joachim are not found in the bible, they are mentioned in the Protoevangelium of James, as well as in other Christian documents from the first centuries of the Church. While devotions to St. Anne and Joachim were initially popular in the Eastern Greek Church, the devotion spread to the Western Church in Europe. Around the 14th century, it became common in the West to depict Saint Anne teaching Mary to read, as we see here. This was a particularly popular subject at this time due to the recent invention of the printing press and an exponential increase in widespread literacy. Mary was seen as the model for all people, so naturally, it was assumed that she would have been well versed in Scripture. Similarly, we also see works of art with St. Anne, Mary, and Jesus reading; Mary is often depicted with a prayer book in Annunciation artwork; and there are also many paintings of Mary teaching Jesus to read. Saint Joachim stands above them, completing the family. Saint Joachim is said to have been blessed by God with wealth, and accordingly, the family is depicted in a rather luxurious abode. Despite their blessing of wealth, it took many years for Anne and Joachim to conceive. When they finally did give birth to Mary, in thanksgiving, they brought her to the temple to consecrate her to God. Fittingly, the dome of the temple is visible in the background. Another common subject for Marian art is her Presentation to the Temple, in which she is often depicted as a girl standing or walking with grace and confidence, with her arms outstretched in humility as we see here. Her head is encircled with the twelve stars from Revelation 12, and there is a blue ribbon tied around her waist to represent her purity and virginity. Meanwhile, Mary’s gaze is directed upwards, as she is seemingly lost in the beautiful heavenly music of the angels looking fondly down upon the family.
THE CORONATION OF THE VIRGIN
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1625-1636), Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, Spain
Although it currently resides in a museum, this painting was originally commissioned for the oratory (private chapel) of Queen Elizabeth of Bourbon, the queen consort to Philip IV of Spain. The eye is immediately drawn to the harmonious symmetry and inverted triangle of the composition. The Holy Spirit is portrayed as a dove, and the gentle curve of the wings slightly softens the triangle into a heart, as a symbol of reverence and piety. Accordingly, Mary reflects this with her own hand pointing toward her heart in humility. The Holy Spirit also shines down a beam of light directly upon Mary, which could also reference the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit that occurred in the Annunciation and Mary’s role in the Incarnation. Above her, all Three Persons of the Holy Trinity are depicted at the same level, symbolizing their equality and unity. Christ the Son and God the Father are both clothed in a rich violet color that in Eastern Christian art is symbolic of royalty. Mary also wears the color of royalty, which is complemented by the blue draping that symbolizes her purity. Christ the Son and God the Father hold a wreath of roses above her head as they crown her Queen of Heaven, which also references the prayer for the Rosary, which had already been a popular and powerful devotion in Spain for more than a century at the time this work was created.