UNKNOWN MASTER, German
(active 1510s in Ulm)

St Anne, the Virgin and Child

1510s
Polychrome wood, 151 x 43 x 30 cm
Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao

Although it was not declared a dogma until 1854, the belief that the Virgin Mary was conceived without sin, sine macula, was already widely spread in the Middle Ages. This explains the special devotion for her parents, Anne and Joachim (not mentioned in the Bible), reflected in numerous works of art of the period. Besides the representations of the meeting between Anne and Joachim beneath the Golden Gate and of the birth of the Blessed Virgin, images with St Anne holding her daughter Mary and her grandson Jesus Christ have been documented in Germany as early as the 13th century. Seated images initially prevailed, but numerous standing figures like this sculpture were produced in the 15th century and early 16th century. The context of this kind of works was usually simple; nevertheless, this one seems to have been placed alongside other figures on an altarpiece box.

The sculpture is designed to be viewed from the front; it has a hollow back, which reduces both its weight and the risk of cracks in the wood; the old beautiful polychromy obeys the same purpose. Despite having been partially restored at a later date, it still preserves its original appearance. Most outstanding are the remains of the imitation of a rich brocade with gold thread achieved by applying fine sheets of embossed metal.

The original provenance of the work is unknown, but its style suggests it came from Ulm, the most important art centre in 15th-century Swabia. This figure of St Anne seems to have been made by an artist in Niklaus Weckmann's circle. Weckmann's large and prolific workshop was the main centre of sculpture production in Ulm in the first decades of the 16th century.




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