The Virgin and Child with St Anne

Leonardo da Vinci was a man gifted with an enquiring and inventive mind, and a talent to express his ingenuity in various ways.

He observed nature and life in minute detail, accepting nothing at face value; he seemingly questioned everything; he thirsted for knowledge that would present a wider perspective and understanding of the world around him; he wanted answers; he certainly wasn’t conventional in his approach to painting; he was always willing to experiment, to embed features and narratives that perhaps would prompt questions or stimulate an enquiry from those who viewed his work. What prompted the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa is one example.

Leonardo once said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

Jonathan Swift (1667-1710), the Irish-born poet and satirist wrote: “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”

With these two quotes in mind, consider the picture below, titled The Virgin and Child with St Anne. Said to be “unfinished” it was painted by Leonardo and is dated by art historians between 1501 and 1519. That’s quite a spread, which suggests there probably isn’t any paper trail recording details of its commission, that’s if it was commissioned by any patron. 

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, by Leonardo da Vinci, Louvre, Paris

The Louvre in Paris, where the painting is kept, speculates that “it is likely the painting was commissioned by King Louis XII of France, following the birth of his daughter in 1499, but it was never delivered to him”.

Another claim is: “The painting was commissioned as the high altarpiece for the Church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence and its theme had long preoccupied Leonardo.”

As the title suggests, the figures seen in the painting represent the child Jesus, his mother Mary, and her mother Anne.

But with Leonardo’s exceptional vision, was his intention to invite viewers to participate and share in “seeing what is invisible to others”? Just what are some of the mysteries and messages embedded in this painting?

More on this in future posts, but in the meantime keep in mind that, in my opinion, the painting is a tribute to Sandro Botticelli who died in impoverished circumstances in 1510, the year before the assigned range of dates given to the work. Leonardo died in 1519.