St Anne Altarpiece

Quinten Massys, 1509
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels

The Altarpiece of St Anne is the earliest dated altarpiece by Quinten Massys – the inscription ‘QVINTE METSYS SCREEF DIT 1509’ can be found on the exterior of the left wing. Massys is considered to be a founder of the Antwerp School of painting, and this triptych can be regarded a milestone for understanding the development of this style.

The altarpiece was commissioned by the confraternity of St. Anne for its chapel in St. Peter’s Church in Louvain, the painter’s hometown. In its composition Massys combined Italian and Netherlandish traditions to create a new style of painting. The central panel depicts the family of St Anne – the Holy Kinship – in a monumental building with a window in its dome and arcades that open out onto a mountainous landscape – reminiscent of Italian painting. The monumental figures and exquisite colors of the altarpiece make admiration irresistible. Despite the impressive scale, Massys sought to create an intimate feeling of contemplation. An example of this is the figure of the small cousin of Jesus in the left corner, who has greedily gathered beautiful illuminations around him and, now fully focussed, tries to read.

Aleksandra Janiszewska, Curator, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, Warsaw

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