Triptych with the Family of St Anne

Quentin Matsys1509/1509

Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
Brussels, Belgium

The reredos or altarpiece depicts five scenes from the life of Anne, the Virgin's mother and her husband Joachim. The saint's family is depicted on the central panel. Anne and the Virgin holding the Christ Child are sitting on a bench and dominate the composition. Anne's second daughter, Mary of Clopas, is sitting by the Virgin's feet with her sons James the Less, Simon, Thaddeus and Joseph. A manuscript, placed upside down on Joseph's lap, features illuminations representing King David. This is an allusion to Christ's ancestors. Anne's third daughter, Mary Salome, is sitting at her mother's feet with her two sons James the Greater and John the Apostle, distinguished by the inkwell attached to his belt. The four men behind the balustrade are Joachim and his sons-in-law, Joseph, Alpheus and Zebedee. The key events in Anne and Joachim's life are depicted in the volets of the triptych. The narrative cycle which starts on the exterior volets essentially presents the drama of the couple's inability to have children and Anne's late pregnancy. On the left is an image of the young couple giving gifts for the poor at the temple. On the right volet, the high priest refuses an offering proffered by an aged Joachim as he has no children. The time that separates the two scenes is shown by Joachim's beard and changes in the priest's appearance. The cycle continues on the inside left volet where an angel announces Mary's birth to Joachim. The Virgin's conception, by a chaste kiss between the couple in front of the Golden Gate, takes place near the city wall. The cycle ends with Anne's death depicted on the inside right volet. She is surrounded by her children and Christ giving his blessings. (Nathalie Toussaint in 'Musée d'Art Ancien. Oeuvres choisies' [Ancient Art Museum: Selected works])


  • Title: Triptych with the Family of St Anne
  • Creator: Quentin Matsys
  • Date: 1509/1509
  • support: oak
  • origin: Aquired from the factory of the Saint-Pierre church in Leuven, 1880
  • Physical Dimensions: w219 x h224.5 cm (central panel)
  • Provenance: Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels
  • Type: painting (panel)
  • Rights: © Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels / photo : J. Geleyns / Ro scan

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