This beautiful pair of marble sculptures represents Saints Anne and Joachim, parents of the Virgin. Absent from the biblical canonical texts, the figures and history of these saints come from the Greek apocryphal account of the Gospel of James, then from its Latin adaptation the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. It is however in the XIIIth century, thanks to the propagation of the Golden Legend by Jacques de Voragine, that their image settles in the popular culture.
According to the texts, Anne, daughter of Akar and emeritus of the Tribe of Levi, was born in Bethlehem around 55 BC. She is described as a pious and long sterile woman. Her figure is often referred to, in the apocrypha, as her Old Testament namesake Hannah, mother of Samuel, prophet and last judge of Israel. Joachim goes back to the Royal Tribe of Judah, descending from the line of King David. Pious and charitable, he was a shepherd of sheep in Nazareth and later took care of his father’s flock near Jerusalem.
The accounts report that their meeting takes place in Jerusalem. Joachim regularly visited the Temple because he was in charge of its decoration. While washing his sheep in the pool of Bethesda, Hannah was near the Sheep Gate next door. After twenty years of marriage, the couple decides to separate because they are unable to give birth. Desperate for their situation which poses many problems in their religious and personal lives, they fast and pray on their own in the hope of being heard by God. Forty days later, an angel appears to them separately to tell them that they will soon be parents.
Their miraculous meeting at the Golden Gate, after the announcement of the upcoming birth of their child, is one of the most popular representations of these two saints. In the 13th century, the legendary posterity of Saint Anne spread and resulted in the cult of the Holy Kinship, which also became a popular iconography of the holy parents of the Virgin, in opposition to that of the Holy Family. Their cult gradually declined in the 16th century in the territories affected by the Counter-Reformation. However, in Italy, Saint Anne and Saint Joachim continue to be represented and venerated. They are the patron saints of grandparents and the fertility of couples.
Our works are sculpted on three sides and should therefore have been intended for small niches, perhaps for a chapel dedicated to the two saints. Saint Joachim is non finito: his hair does not seem finished. The non finito technique appears for the first time in the creations of Donatello who wanted to highlight the spiritual and dramatic intensities of the subjects represented. It is therefore, for some artists, an artistic will, a technique used as a means of expression. For others, like Michelangelo, it seems that the non finito appears more like an aesthetic of the unfinished that results from the difficulty for the artist to achieve perfection.
The artist of our Saints Anne and Joachim also uses the trephine technique, a kind of drill operated by hand using a bow. This tool has been used since Antiquity to reach recesses, clear parts that are difficult to access and rough out small diameter grooves by forming cylindrical cavities. Slow but precise, the drill bit is intended for very fragile places and hard materials such as wood, stone and marble. The trephine technique brings movement and depth to the whole.
They are part of the production of church sculptures made by Italian Baroque artists at the end of the 17th century. The sculptor Orazio Marinali (1643-1720) produced several works of this type, some of which are exhibited today in the Museum of the City of Cremona. The dimensions, expression and gestures of the hands bring a certain dramatization, typical of Baroque sculpture, and recall the characteristics of our Saints Anne and Joachim.
In San Gregorio da Sassola, an artist probably from Bernini’s circle made the sculptures for the Santa Maria Nuova convent. Two of them represent Saint Anne and Saint Joachim with the same dramatization expressed by the gestures of the characters and by the movement of the draperies and their bodies.
Our two sculptures are therefore part of the production of late 17th century Italian Baroque with exaggerated movement, dramatic effects, tension in expression and a certain exuberance of forms, like the hand of Saint Anne whose size contrast with the rest of the body. As Philippe Beaussant said, the Baroque era was “a world where all opposites would be harmoniously possible”.