CLEVE, Joos van
(b. ca. 1485, Antwerpen, d. 1540, Antwerpen)

St Anne with the Virgin and Child and St Joachim

Wood, 109 x 74 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

Antwerp experienced an extraordinary economic boom around 1500. The export of luxury goods grew so fast that many artists came to establish themselves there "... because art loves the company of wealth". The painter Joos van der Beke, also known as Joos van Cleve, was enrolled in 1511 as a master painter in the Antwerp Guild of St Luke. Most of his fruitful career took place in Antwerp.

The scene of St Anne with the Virgin and Child and St Joachim presents three generations: the grandparents, the mother and the infant Jesus. Although the present panel may well have come from a place of worship, this type of popular representation is mainly intended for private devotion. Van Cleve's command of space, colour and light is masterly. The balanced composition with the central figure of St Anne is placed in an equilateral triangle. In the centre, the most important element, lies the infant Jesus, comfortably asleep in his grandmother's lap. Although the divine family forms the centre, attention is immediately drawn to the two wide landscapes onto which the loggia opens: a small, moated castle, some houses, a dovecote. The interior displays considerable wealth: Anne sits enthroned in front of a 'mille-fleurs' tapestry, hung between two porphyry columns with bronze Corinthian capitals. The fabrics are also richly reproduced, with the women's red and blue gold-hemmed mantles standing out strongly against Joachim's fur-lined overcoat. The figure of Joachim is somewhat puzzling. Until now he was regarded by all authors as being Joseph. The rich dress and the clearly painted purse hardly fit with the poor carpenter, but with Anne's first husband, who was indeed a wealthy man. When he arrived at the temple in Jerusalem, the high priest refused his gold coins because he was childless. This makes the purse on the belt an allusion to the refused offering.

The balanced composition and the collected expressions of the figures radiate an unprecedented serenity that points to Italian influence. More than many of his contemporaries, Van Cleve was open to all kinds of influence, not only of artists from his vicinity such as Quentin Massys, but also to Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer.