DÜRER, Albrecht
(b. 1471, Nürnberg, d. 1528, Nürnberg)

St Anne with the Virgin and Child

Oil and tempera on canvas, transferred from panel, 60 x 50 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This is a devotional image that Leonhard Tucher commissioned from Dürer. In 1628, it was offered by Gabriel III Tucher to Maximilian of Bavaria, who did not consider it to be an original. After having passed from collection to collection, it was acquired in 1910 by Benjamin Altmann, who donated it in 1913 to the museum in New York.

After having formerly been considered at times a copy, today the panel is generally held to be an original work of Dürer. The theme treated is often found in the altarpieces in Nuremberg, which are obviously of different scales and are solemn and monumental. Here the close and more familiar rapport the patron had with the requested painting led Dürer to prefer a more intimate interpretation.

Dürer's work is triangular in composition. St Anne, the mother of the Virgin, places her left hand on her daughter's shoulder, in a gesture of consolation. The youthful Mary worships the child, her hands together in silent prayer. The infant rests against St Anne. His expression suggests not only sleep, but death, as the two women seem to understand. A study survives of the half length figure of St Anne, probably based on Dürer's wife Agnes, then in her mid-forties. In the painting, St Anne's features have been softened and she appears younger. The picture was commissioned by Leonard Tucher, a member of the Nuremberg family whose portraits Dürer had painted earlier.