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St. Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, stands on an altar within an unusual architectural space. It is crumbling to reveal the sky above. Anne holds her hands in prayer and gazes to the heavens. Two angels descend and deliver the soul of Mary to her womb. The miracle is contemplated below by the Fathers of the Church—saints Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory, and Jerome.

Pordenone’s majestic altarpiece represents the Immaculate Conception, which is to say the conception of the Virgin Mary. Debated for centuries, the Immaculate Conception was staunchly defended by the Franciscan order. This painting was commissioned in 1529 by Virginia Pallavicino for her family’s chapel in the Franciscan church in Cortemaggiore (near Piacenza). Pordenone also frescoed the chapel with illusionistic architecture, a motif repeated in the altarpiece.

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