Work of Art Wednesday: Images for Hope and Reflection

Gil de Siloe, The Saint Anne Trinity
Wednesday, May 6, 2020 - 12:00pm

Gil de Siloé (c. 1440-1505) lived in the Castile region of northern Spain in the city of Burgos (north of Madrid). He was a successful sculptor who led a large workshop during the last quarter of the 15th century and was considered one of Burgos’ leading artists. His works reflected German and Flemish stylistic influences and included carved polychrome altarpieces (retables) and stone tombs (sepulchers). His patrons included wealthy merchants, clergy, and Queen Isabel I (1451-1504), consort to Ferdinand II, King of Aragon (1452-1516).

The subject of St. Anne (the mother of Mary) depicted as a trio with the Virgin Mary and Christ Child was a popular devotional subject in Northern Europe and is thought to have perhaps originated during the medieval period in Germany and the Netherlands. Thousands of late medieval sculptures of this subject were also created in Spain—all reflect devotional worship of St. Anne, whose cult began in the mid-sixth century in Jerusalem and Constantinople and spread throughout Europe over time.

This sculpture has a hollowed out back side which indicates that it (like other wood-carved polychrome sculptures of the period) was likely originally placed in a niche (either in a church or in a home) or affixed to a wall. Regardless, the downward gaze of the figures suggests that perhaps it would have been displayed above eye level.

In this work, Jesus sits on his grandmother St. Anne’s lap, and offers a spherical object (which may be an apple or an orb). The apple symbolizes the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden, but when held by the Christ Child, symbolizes the fruit of salvation. An orb represents the world and thus Christ’s heavenly reign on Earth. Here, Mary is seated next to her mother who embraces Mary’s shoulder.

Anne wears a head covering typical of married women in Europe at the turn of the 16th century. Mary’s dress also reflects fashion of the era — a squared neckline became fashionable in Flanders circa 1483. The green color of Mary’s garment would have identified her in the secular world as a recently married young woman. Mary holds an open book — in other depictions of this trio, Anne holds a book (as she is known for teaching Mary to read the Bible) and Mary holds her son. Compare and contrast other sculptures of this trio here.

 Reflect upon a prayer selected by Rockhurst University's Office of Mission and Ministry inspired by this work, by clicking here.

Click here to share your thoughts on Facebook. Click here to download and then zoom in on the full image.