Jacopo Tintoretto, Madonna and Child with Saints

1540
Oil on canvas
Private collection

This painting appeared in an exhibition at Venice's Accademia Gallery. The gallery's label identified the man on the left as St. James the Greater. But when James is portrayed with a staff he is traditionally also arrayed as a pilgrim, with a conch-shell badge and a pilgrim's hat. This man is more likely St. Joseph, who is often pictured as an old man in a green robe with a walking stick. In a grudging nod to the Protevangelium's story of the rods Tintoretto places live flowers above and behind the walking stick, not on it.

The label may also be incorrect in identifying the Franciscan on the right as St. Francis of Assisi. That saint is always pictured with wounds in his two hands and his side, so this should be some other Franciscan, probably St. Anthony of Padua, who was popular in Venice at the time and is usually pictured as a young man with a tonsure holding the Christ Child. Here the child reaches out to him with a gesture common to babies who want to be held, while nevertheless asserting his divinity by forming his right hand into the blessing configuration seen in more formal Madonna and Child portraits.

Mary's parents, Anne and Joachim, stand behind her; Joachim is identified by his staff. To the right is St. Catherine of Alexandria, identified by the wheeled contraption in front of her.

The boy standing in the foreground is the child John the Baptist; his scroll bears the second word of his expostulation in John 1:29: ecce agnus dei, "Behold the Lamb of God." The word is doubled by the actual lamb at his feet.

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Read more about Madonna and Child images.
Read more about St. Anne, St. Joachim, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. John the Baptist, St. Joseph, and St. Anthony of Padua.

Photographed at the Accademia Gallery by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.