Home Introduction Jesus Mary Apostles Saints Spiritual Themes Genesis Moses Deuteronomic History Educating Arte Full new Screen

Saint Anne’s upbringing of Mary

Saint Anne bringing the Virgin to the Temple

Jacques Stella (1596-1657). Musée des Beaux-Arts – Rouen. 1640.

Scenes of the life of the Virgin were frequent themes in religious paintings, even though the Gospels contain few anecdotes of her early years. Especially French court painters of the seventeenth century took up the theme, among which foremost Laurent de la Hyre, Jean Restout and Jacques Stella. We briefly show one of the many scenes of the upbringing of the Virgin by her mother, Saint Anne.

Jacques Stella was born in Lyon in 1596 from a family of Flemish painters. He first entered into the service of the Medicis in Florence, and stayed in Florence and Rome for about twenty years from 1616 to 1635. Later he was appointed to the position of Painter of the King of France. This happened in 1634 under Louis XIII. Stella died in Paris in 1657. Jacques Stella was much influenced by the classicism of Nicolas Poussin who, although French like Stella, worked mostly in Rome. Stella brought Poussin’s classicism to its cool heights that pleased at the grand courts of the Kings of France.

The panel ‘Saint Anne bringing the Virgin to the Temple’ was commissioned for the chapel of the Saint-Germain-en-Laye palace by the French Queen, Anne of Austria, who wanted to give thanks for the birth of a male child, the dauphin and later Louis XIV F10 . Jacques Stella made a picture, which is almost the example per excellence of French classicist art.

Saint Anne is wearing a green robe and blue cloak. She is almost a classical, Greek statue. The folds of her cloak are sculpted marble. She stands in front of a Greek marble column and she faces a Greek Ionic temple. Figures are talking like Greek philosophers on the stairs of the temple. In fact, this is a double scene in which the young Virgin is also presented in the temple. In the main scene, Anne is stepping down stairs, the stairs of the Old Law, and she is pointing to the new Law, to the Temple F10 .

The painting is a magnificent example of sound French dignified taste of religious art. It is non-engaging, it contains no passion, it only tells the story. It is a cold picture and the pure colours emphasise this effect, which was called later French ‘Atticism’ for the ancient name of Greece, Attica. Mary is the touching young child, but even in her Jacques Stella mainly expressed antique dignity in the way the child holds her robe and cloak. The woman and child are not the humble workers’ family but Roman Patrician ladies or Greek noblewomen. This was probably the idea Jacques Stella had of an ideal Christian (French) civilisation such as the courts of the French kings Louis XIII and Louis XIV could create.

Although the seventeenth century was the age of exuberant Baroque, French painters who needed to distinguish themselves from their other European colleagues, returned to the elevated and solemn mind-images of painters like Pietro Perugino. But they used the way of expression as taught by the Carracci family of painters of Bologna and by the French precursors Simon Vouet and later Nicolas Poussin. The picture of Jacques Stella is simple, limpid, in clear lines and colours. The verticality of the composition gives an impression of silent dignity in viewers. This art seems to appeal much to our modern tastes, and that probably more than the ostentatious display of emotions of Baroque.

Other paintings:

Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2007
Book Next Previous

Copyright: René Dewil - All rights reserved. The electronic form of this document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source as 'René Dewil - The Art of Painting - Copyright'. No permission is granted for commercial use and if you would like to reproduce this work for commercial purposes in all or in part, in any form, as in selling it as a book or published compilation, then you must ask for my permission formally and separately.