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Legends of the Madonna - Five or Six Figures

( Originally Published 1895 )



The addition of Joseph, as a fifth figure, completes the domestic group. The introduction of the aged Zacharias renders, however, yet more full and complete, the circle of human life and human affection. We have, then, infancy, youth, maturity, and age, — difference of sex and various degrees of relationship, combined into one harmonious whole ; and in the midst, the divinity of innocence, the Child-God, the brightness of a spiritual power, connecting our softest earthly affections with our highest heavenward aspirations.'

A Holy Family of more than six figures (the angels not included) is very unusual. But there are examples of groups combining all those personages mentioned in the Gospels as being related to Christ, though the nature and the degree of this supposed relationship has embarrassed critics and commentators, and is not yet settled.

According to an ancient tradition, Anna, the mother of the Virgin Mary, was three times married, Joachim being her third husband : the two others were Cleophas and Salome. By Cleophas she had a daughter, also called Mary, who was the wife of Alpheus and the mother of Thaddeus, James Minor, and Joseph Justus. By Salome she had a daughter, also Mary, married to Zebedee, and the mother of James Major and John the Evangelist. This idea that St. Anna was successively the wife of three husbands, and the mother of three daughters, all of the name of Mary, has been rejected by later authorities ; but in the beginning of the sixteenth century it was accepted, and to that period may be referred the pictures, Italian and German, representing a peculiar version of the Holy Family more properly styled " the Family of the Virgin Mary."

A picture by Lorenzo di Pavia, painted about 1513, exhibits a very complete example of this family group. Mary is seated in the centre, holding in her lap the Infant Christ ; near her is St. Joseph. Behind the Virgin stands St. Anna, and three men, with their names inscribed, Joachim, Cleophas, and Salome. On the right of the Virgin are Mary the daughter of Cleophas, Alpheus her husband, and her children, Thaddeus, James Minor, and Joseph Justus. On the left of the Virgin are Mary the daughter of Salome, her husband Zebedee, and her children James Major and John the Evangelist. [Louvre.]

A yet more beautiful example is a picture by Perugino in the Musée at Marseilles, which I have already cited and described in " Sacred and Legendary Art ; " here, also, the relatives of Christ, destined to be afterwards his apostles and the ministers of his word, are grouped around him in his infancy. In the centre Mary is seated and holding the Child ; St. Anna stands behind, resting her hands affectionately on the shoulders of the Virgin. In front, at the feet of the Virgin, are two boys, Joseph and Thaddeus ; and near them Mary, the daughter of Cleophas, holds the hands of her third son, James Minor. To the right is Mary Salome, holding in her arms her son, John the Evangelist, and at her feet is her other son, James Major. Joseph, Zebedee, and other members of the family stand around. The same subject I have seen in illuminated MSS., and in German prints. It is worth remarking that all these appeared about the same time, between 1505 and 1520, and that the subject afterwards disappeared ; from which I infer that it was not authorized by the Church ; perhaps because the exact degree of relationship between these young apostles and the Holy Family was not clearly made out, either by Scripture or tradition.



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