Madonna and Child with St. Anne, St. Joachim and St. John the Evangelist
Ludovico Mazzolino (Ferrara circa 1480 - 1528/1530)
Mazzolino was an original interpreter of private and devotional painting. Highly appreciated within the Este court, his works, that were often in small format, immediately became collector's items. The rich architectural background of this panel, with Grotesque decorations and an ancient-style battle frieze inspired by Roman sarcophagi, is a proof of the artist's antiquarian culture. Through the small size of the panel, the artist finds a way to accentuate and bring together different suggestions. The central group with the Madonna, the Child and St. Anne recalls Leonardo's famous model, but it is translated into a more pronounced style derived mostly from North German painting and especially Dürer's engravings. The cherries handed by St. Anne to the Child symbolise the blood that will be shed during the Passion. The scene is witnessed by St. John the Evangelist, recognisable by the eagle and the book in his hand, and by St. Joachim, Mary's father, who is dressed in oriental garb. In the second half of the 16th century, and in particular since the Devolution of Ferrara to the Papal States in 1598, many works by Mazzolino, which belonged to members of the d'Este family or their circle, not only entered the great Roman collections, but some of them, like this one, became part of the Medici collections. The inventories of the 18th century erroneously indicated Gaudenzio Ferrari as the author of the painting, but at the end of that century it was correctly attributed to Mazzolino. This theory has remained valid since then.
M. Danieli, Sant’Anna Metterza fra San Giovanni Evangelista e San Gioacchino, in I bambini e il cielo, catalogo della mostra (Illegio, Casa delle Esposizioni, 28 aprile - 30 settembre 2012) a cura di S. Castri, Torino 2012, n. 50, pp. 232-233; L.Calvani, Madonna con Bambino con Sant'Anna, San Gioacchino e San Giovanni Evangelista – Lodovico Mazzolino, “Catalogo Generale dei Beni Culturali” (https://catalogo.beniculturali.it/detail/HistoricOrArtisticProperty/0900287800)