MASSYS, Quentin
(b. 1465/66, Leuven, d. 1530, Antwerpen)

St Anne Altarpiece (closed)

Oil on wood, 220 x 92 cm (each wing)
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

The backs of the wings, when the triptych is closed, juxtapose two scenes. The first takes place beneath the portico of a church, the double arch of which gives onto a square, at the far end of which can be seen the tower of Antwerp cathedral. Under the portico, the High Priest of Jerusalem is receiving an ebony casket from St Anne, who lowers her eyes. Behind her, Joachim holds a parchment which contains the act of donation to the temple and its ministers. In the distance are two figures seen from behind: these too are Anne and Joachim, distributing money to the poor.

In the second scene, Joachim's face and attitude express his distress and confusion: the High Priest has refused the coins Joachim has just placed on the offering table, and is gesturing to him brusquely to leave.

Massys may sometimes tend towards mawkishness in his treatment of these themes, but St Anne was a particularly popular legend in Flanders and Holland, and this painting brought him immediate and considerable success.