Index of Selected Artists in the Collection

German (Upper Rhine)
Saint Anne, Mary, and the Christ Child (Anna Selbdritt), ca. 1515
Wood (probably linden), polychromed and gilt
19 5/8 x 16 1/2 x 3 1/2 in. (49.8 x 41.9 x 8.9 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1942
AMAM 1942.52

Evidently once part of a small domestic or traveling tabernacle, this polychromed sculpture of Saint Anne and the Virgin and child is a manifestation of the marked rise in devotion to Saint Anne in late medieval Germany.

The cult of Saint Anne became widespread in the West, and particularly in Germany, after Sixtus IV's acceptance of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in 1476, and his Grave nimis Bull of 1482. For if, as the Franciscans had long argued, Christ was conceived without sin, his mother must have been similarly unblemished.1

The Oberlin tabernacle is one of countless sixteenth-century German images of the "Anna Selbdritt" (translated roughly as "herself making a third") that expressed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.2 Within the iconographic scheme were essentially two traditions: one conforming closely to a Byzantine prototype and characterized by a blocklike, hierarchical grouping, with Anne at the apex; and the other, what one scholar has termed the "trinitarian arrangement," as in the Oberlin example, giving more parity to the Virgin and child, and better suited to the nascent naturalistic styles of Northern Europe.3

The Anna Selbdritt was derived from images of the Heilige Sippe (or Holy Kinship), which may once have lingered here in the form of half-length figures of Joseph and Joachim inhabiting the now vacant semicircular openings in the upper corners of the work.4 Similar figures appear in an Upper Rhenish (Strasbourg?) winged retable in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and in a Swabian relief in the Mayer van den Bergh Museum, Antwerp.5 Indeed, as the Oberlin tabernacle shows evidence of having been part of a triptych or small retable, the rest of Anne's family may have inhabited its now missing wings, as in Daniel Mauch's Sippenretabel at Bieselbach.6 The green grass in the foreground, evocative of the lush settings of the hortus conclusus typical of Holy Kinship scenes after around 1400, further supports this possibility.7 Alternatively, the wings may have been occupied by individual saints, with specific ties to the patron and/or the function of the work, as in the London winged retable 8 mentioned above; or by scenes from the life of Saint Anne.9

In view of its diminutive scale, the Oberlin work was almost certainly intended as an aid to private devotion in the home or while traveling,10 and was perhaps owned by a member of the burgeoning middle class, many of whom were members of the many guilds or brotherhoods to claim Saint Anne as their patron. Fostering an intimate dialogue between its owner and Saint Anne, and by extension the Virgin and child,11 and serving as an example of female deportment thought pleasing to God,12 the Oberlin tabernacle would have been the object of numerous prayers (some of which would have earned indulgences): for intercession, for vocational or commercial success, for the cure of certain diseases, for a good death, or for the propagation of the family of its owner, by way of fertility and the safe delivery of children. (The latter area was Saint Anne's special province within the cult of the saints.13)

The rich metaphorical language of these prayers, in turn, helped shape both the form and content of the Oberlin tabernacle. Mary was refer 14 lending added significance both to the form and architecture of the tabernacle. Mary's elevation of the child would have been recognized by many as an imitation of the priest's elevation of the Host during the Mass,15 which may in part explain the somber mood of Saint Anne, who, in contrast to her daughter, appears aware of what is to come, namely Christ's Passion.

The very material of the Oberlin tabernacle would have recalled the idea that Anne, as the patron saint of woodworkers, was "source of the strong wood that craftsmen bend in multiple shapes and erect in proud, lasting foundations, vine of the mystical grape...the sterile tree who bore fruit in the autumn of her age..."16

Such piety was curtailed by the Protestant Reformation.17 And while it is true that traditional images of Anne could be adapted to new purposes,18 the saint was often depicted by Protestants as a sorceress. 19 Even Catholics began to question aspects of their devotion to Anne, and with the Council of Trent, her cult was significantly diminished.20

Theodor Müller was the first to propose the Upper Rhine as the place of origin of the Oberlin work.21 Stechow cited as a stylistic parallel the Dangolsheim Altarpiece of 1522 (St. Lawrence Chapel of Strasbourg Cathedral), and saw "echoes" of Nicholas Gerhaert of Leyden's Epitaph of 1464.22 Robert Koch opined that the Oberlin Anna Selbdritt "at least indirectly reflects" the work of Gerhaert, and thought it "not too far from the style of Nicolas von Hagenau."23 The architectural background resembles that of an Upper Rhenish image of the Virgin and child in Colmar. 24

D. A. McColl

Biography
None.

Provenance
Collection Chauncey J. Blair, Chicago (1916)

With French and Company, New York, from whom purchased in 1942

Exhibitions
The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1916. The Inaugural Exhibition. 6 June - 20 September. Cat. no. 15.

Berea, Ky., Berea College, 1947. December.

Literature
Hamilton, Chloe. "Catalogue of R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund Acquisitions." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 16, no. 2 (Winter 1959), cat. no. 3; no. 3 (Spring 1959), ill. p. 210.

Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, p. 87, fig. 241.

Technical Data
The tabernacle is comprised of three basic sections: a figural group, made of two or three pieces, and secured by two iron pins and two modern slotted iron screws; the architectural setting, consisting of pieces doweled or fastened into the frame; and a dovetailed frame. The work is polychromed and gilded throughout. There appear to be applied metal stars on the ceiling.

The Christ child is missing his proper right hand, from which an iron nail or brad protrudes, and sections of his proper right foot, around which are residues of old adhesive. Saint Anne has cracks in both her wrists, and two fingers missing from her proper right hand. There is a crack in the Virgin's proper left wrist. There are four filled and inpainted rectangular repair areas on the edges of the outer frame, two along each vertical side, suggesting that the piece was at one time hinged to another element. Extensive insect activity, particularly tunneling, is evident throughout, but particularly in the frame: such damage was recently contained.

To the stylistic arguments for a Rhenish provenance can be added a technical one: the material of the Oberlin tabernacle, which is probably linden or limewood, was favored in the south of Germany, whereas harder hardwoods were preferred in the north, often by guild statute.25

Footnotes
1. On the cult and imagery of Saint Anne, see most recently Kathleen Ashley and Pamela Sheingorn, eds., Interpreting Cultural Symbols: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Society (Athens, Ga., 1990), with full bibliography; and Heilige Anne, graete Moeder: De cultus van de Heilige Moeder Anne en haar familie in de Nederlanden en aangrenzende streken (Uden, 1992). Among the most useful older studies are Beda Kleinschmidt, Die heilige Anna. Ihre Verehrung in Geschichte, Kunst und Volkstum (Düsseldorf, 1930); K. Algermissen et al., eds., Lexikon der Marienkunde, vol. 1 (Regensburg, 1967), pp. 230-52; and Paul-Victor Charland, Le Culte de Saint Anne en Occident, second période: De 1400 (environ) ˆ nos jours (Québec, 1921). On Anne's role in the Immaculate Conception, see Mirella Levi d'Ancona, The Iconography of the Immaculate Conception in the Middle Ages and the Early Renaissance (New York, 1957). On the introduction of her cult to the West, see Ashley and Sheingorn, eds., op. cit., pp. 10-13.

2. On the Anna Selbdritt, see Siegfried Gohr, "Anna Selbdritt," in Die Gottesmutter: Marienbild im Rheinland und Westfalen, ed. Leonhard Küppers, vol. 2 (Recklinghausen, 1971), pp. 243-54; and Engelbert Kirschbaum, Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie, ed. Wolfgang Braunfels, vol. 5 (Rome, 1973), cols. 185-90.

3. John O. Hand, "Saint Anne with the Virgin and the Christ Child by the Master of Frankfurt," Studies in the History of Art 12 (1982), p. 49.

4. This possibility was first suggested by Sherrill M. Rood in a paper for Oberlin College, dated January 1965. On the Heilige Sippe, see W. Esser, "Die heilige Sippe. Studien zu einem Spätmittelalter Thema in Deutschland und in den Niederlanden" (Ph.D. diss., Universität Bonn, 1986); and Engelbert Kirschbaum, Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie, ed. Wolfgang Braunfels, vol. 4 (Rome, 1973), cols. 163-68.

5. Painted limewood, ca. 1510-20, 158.8 x 247.7 cm, inv. 125-1873; see Michael Baxandall, Victoria and Albert Museum: South German Sculpture, 1480-1530 (London, 1974), pp. 42-44, cat. no. 8; and limewood, ca. 1520-30, 31.4 x 23.3 cm; see Robert Didier and Hartmut Krohm, Duitse middeleeuwse beeldhouwwerken in belgische Verzamelingen/Les Sculptures médiévales allemandes dans les Collections belges (1977), p. 178, cat. no. 85.

6. Limewood, dated 1510, approx. 250 x 230 cm [open], Chapel of St. Francis Xavier; see Michael Baxandall, Limewood Sculptors of Renaissance Germany (New Haven and London, 1980), p. 303, and pls. 81-83; and Detlef Zinke, Augustinermuseum Freiburg: Bildwerke des Mittelalters und der Renaissance 1100-1530 (Munich, 1995), fig. D, p. 142.

7. Kathleen Ashley and Pamela Sheingorn, eds., Interpreting Cultural Symbols: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Society (Athens, Ga., 1990), p. 25.

8. The wings of this retable portray Saint Christopher and the Magdalene.

9. This is the case in a retable in the Musée d'Unterlinden, Colmar; Ulm, ca. 1510-15, 60 x 54 x 13 cm, inv. SB 70, R.P. 75. See Sophie Guillot de Suduiraut, Sculptures allemandes de la fin du moyen age dans les collections publiques fran?aises 1400-1530 (exh. cat., Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1991), pp. 221-23, cat. no. 60.

10. On the rise of individual meditations in the late medieval period, see K. Erdei, Auf dem Wege zu sich selbst: Die Meditation im 16. Jahrhundert. Eine funktionsanalytische Gattungsbeschreibung (Wiesbaden, 1990). On the role of images in such piety, see most recently H. van Os, with E. Honée, H. Nieuwdorp, and B. Ridderbos, The Art of Devotion in the Late Middle Ages in Europe, 1300-1500, trans. M. Hoyle (Princeton, 1994).

11. The Oberlin image would have assumed a particular importance on those days dedicated to both the Virgin and Saint Anne, whose feasts became closely intertwined.

12. See Ton Brandenbarg, "St. Anne and Her Family: The Veneration of St. Anne in Connection with Concepts of Marriage and the Family in the Early Modern Period," in Saints and She-Devils: Images of Women in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, ed. Lne Dresen-Coenders (London, 1987), pp. 101-27.

13. Michael Baxandall, Limewood Sculptors of Renaissance Germany (New Haven and London, 1980), p. 56.

14. Carol J. Purtle, The Marian Paintings of Jan van Eyck (Princeton, 1982), p. 15.

15. See, for instance, Colin Eisler's review of Purtle, The Marian Paintings of Jan van Eyck, in The Art Bulletin 68 (1986), p. 678. Also Kathleen Ashley ("Image and Ideology: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Drama and Narrative," in Kathleen Ashley and Pamela Sheingorn, eds., Interpreting Cultural Symbols: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Society [Athens, Ga., 1990], pp. 111-30) discusses a late medieval convent play in Huy, Belgium, in which "St. Anne...is a wise matriarch who instructs her daughter how to 'read' the infant body of Christ in the language of affective devotion...."

16. F. Sautman, "Saint Anne in Folk Tradition: Late Medieval France," in Kathleen Ashley and Pamela Sheingorn, eds., Interpreting Cultural Symbols: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Society (Athens, Ga., 1990), p. 85.

17. The cult of Saint Anne drew the particular ire of Martin Luther, who nonetheless admitted his infatuation with this saint as a young man. After surviving a violent thunderstorm, Luther kept his vow--"St. Anne, help me, I will become a monk"--and entered a monastery that had a brotherhood dedicated to Saint Anne. Kathleen Ashley and Pamela Sheingorn, eds., Interpreting Cultural Symbols: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Society (Athens, Ga., 1990), pp. 47-48.

18. For example, Lucas Cranach's Holy Kinship print of 1509 was reissued with verses by Philip Melanchthon; see Christiane D. Andersson, "Religiöse Bilder Cranachs im Dienste der Reformation," in Humanismus und Reformation als kulturelle Kräfte in der deutschen Geschichte, Historische Kommission zu Berlin 51 (Berlin and New York, 1981), pp. 43-79.

19. On Anne as sorceress, see Jean Wirth, "Ste. Anne est une sorcire," Bibliothque d'Humanisme et Renaissance 40 (1978), pp. 449-80.

20. The Council referred specifically to the "'misplaced devotion' that saw her as selected by God to be mother to the Virgin before the beginning of time." Kathleen Ashley and Pamela Sheingorn, eds., Interpreting Cultural Symbols: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Society (Athens, Ga., 1990), pp. 46-47.

21. Letter to Wolfgang Stechow, dated 29 May 1957. There is also a reference in the curatorial file to a Dr. Rasmussen, of Hamburg, who in 1974 expressed the opinion that the work is Upper Rhenish and datable to ca. 1510-15.

22. Wolfgang Stechow, Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College (Oberlin, 1967), p. 87. The Epitaph is sandstone, from Wissembourg, 65 x 61 cm, Berlin, Skulpurensammlung, Staatliche Museen, inv. no. 5898. Theodor Müller (Sculpture in the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Spain [Harmondsworth, 1966], p. 102) attributes the Epitaph to the master of the Malberg Virgin (Trier Cathedral), and dates it to ca. 1480.

23. Letter of 6 February 1959.

24. Upper Rhine, ca. 1470-80, Karlsruhe, Badisches Landesmuseum, on long-term loan to the Musée d'Unterlinden, Colmar. See Petra Breidenstein, "Vergleichende technologische Untersuchungen an drei Halbreliefs als mšgliche Hilfe bei der Dateriung," in Sophie Guillot de Suduiraut, ed., Sculptures médiévales allemandes: conservation et restauration: actes du colloque organisé au musée du Louvre par le service culturel les 6 et 7 décembre 1991 (Paris, 1993), color plate I, and p. 150 n. 2.

25. See Michael Baxandall, The Limewood Sculptors of Renaissance Germany (New Haven and London, 1980), p. 27; and W. D. Wixom, Medieval Sculpture at the Cloisters (New York, 1989) (reprinted from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, [Winter 1988/89], pp. 8-9). On late medieval German sculpture more generally, see Sophie Guillot de Suduiraut, ed., Sculptures médiévales allemandes: Conservation et restauration: Actes du colloque organisé au Musée du Louvre par le service culturel les 6 et 7 décembre 1991 (Paris, 1993).