Today, July 26, is St. Anne Feast Day. Saint Anne was the mother of Mary, and grandmother of Jesus; but she is also one of the patron saints of Florence, along with the main one, St. John the Baptist, and the others, St. Reparata and St. Zanobi. The devotion to Saint Anne in Florence dates back to a specific episode of the 14th century, that occurred in a decade that will prove to be quite tormented for this city, and that has the church of Orsanmichele as the protagonist.
But: who is St. Anne firs of all? Despite her important relationship with Mary and Jesus, and the strong worship in Christian religion, the information we have about her and her life don’t come from the official Gospels, but through the so called “apocryphal Gospels”; the Church, however, has welcomed her worship. The story of Anne and her spouse Joachim is often narrated in famous fresco cycles representing the Stories of the Virgin Mary, that we can also find here in Florence: Anne and Joachim are a happy and very devoted couple, but without children due to the sterility of Joachim. This “dishonor” causes the High Priest to forbid him to make sacrifices in the Temple, expelling him badly. Humiliated, Joachim takes refuge in the desert, for a period of retreat, when an angel appears to Anne announcing her future pregnancy. The same angel appears in Joachim’s dream, to deliver the same message. Joachim then returns to the city, where the famous “Meeting at the Golden Gate” takes place: one of the most represented kisses in art, starting with Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua!
In Tuscany, a typical representation of Saint Anne becomes the so called “Sant’Anna Metterza”, where “metterza” stands for “mi è terza”, an ancient Tuscan expression that means that she is “put in the third position”. The image, in fact, portrays three generations together: St. Anne behind her daughter Mary, that holds her baby son Jesus on her knees. Two illustrious names famous for representing this particular iconography? Masaccio, whose altarpiece is now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and Leonardo da Vinci, whose artwork is now in the Louvre Museum in Paris.