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Francesco Francia, Saint Anne with the Virgin and Four Saints

Key facts
Full title The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, the Infant Saint John the Baptist and Four Saints
Artist Francesco Francia
Artist dates about 1447 - 1517
Group The Buonvisi Altarpiece
Date made 1510-12
Medium and support Oil on canvas, transferred from wood
Dimensions 195 × 180.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1841
Inventory number NG179
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Saint Anne with the Virgin and Four Saints
Francesco Francia

This altarpiece was commissioned by Benedetto Buonvisi for his family chapel in Lucca. The Virgin Mary and Saint Anne are seated on a throne. The infant Christ leans across his mother’s lap towards his grandmother to reach for the fruit she offers him.

The Virgin appears lost in thought, perhaps contemplating Christ’s destiny, which is foreshadowed by a relief carving behind her head. It represents the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22: 2), when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his own son but then provided a lamb in Isaac’s place.

Saint Sebastian and Saint Paul stand on the left and Saint Lawrence and Saint Benedict are on the right. The infant Saint John the Baptist carries a banner that reads ‘ECCE AGNUS DEI’, meaning ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ – Christ must be sacrificed and no lamb will be exchanged in his place.

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The Buonvisi Altarpiece


This altarpiece was painted for the Buonvisi Chapel in the church of S. Frediano in Lucca. It shows the Virgin Mary with her mother, Saint Anne, and the infant Christ enthroned and surrounded by saints, from left to right: Saint Sebastian, Saint Paul, Saint Lawrence and Saint Benedict.

In the main panel, the young Virgin sits holding her baby, thinking about his future sacrifice. The scene carved on the pillar behind her head represents the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22: 2), when God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son but at the last moment supplied a lamb instead. In Francia’s altarpiece, the infant John the Baptist’s banner reads ‘ECCE AGNUS DEI’ (‘Behold the Lamb of God’). His message is that Christ must be sacrificed but that no lamb will be exchanged in his place.

In the semicircular panel above the main panel, the elderly Virgin grieves over the lifeless body of her son who has been sacrificed for the salvation of mankind.