First-of-its-kind study connects music, Saint Anne

July 28, 2014
detail from a 16th century painted alterpieceThe Altarpiece of the Holy Kinship (1509) by Lucas Cranach the Elder celebrates the extended family of Jesus descended from his maternal grandmother St. Anne. A section is on the cover of Michael Anderson's new book.

You will find no references to St. Anne in the New Testament. And yet, from the early 15th to early 16th centuries, the apocryphal mother of the Virgin Mary was a subject of great veneration by women of all social ranks, especially among royalty

Michael Alan Anderson, Associate Professor of Musicology at the Eastman School, examines how this devotion was expressed in the music of this time period in a book just published, St. Anne in Renaissance Music: Devotion and Politics (Cambridge University Press). This is the first study to explore the music that honored the saint and its connections to some of the most prominent court cultures of western Europe. 

As “an impressive matriarch over Christ’s extended family . . . St. Anne was pivotal in establishing the virtuousness of marriage and the value of progeny,” Anderson writes. And, as the title of his book suggests, nobles in particular “either explicitly or implicitly used St. Anne to achieve their political goals,” Anderson explained in an interview. “Aristocrats established their worthiness to rule both by demonstrating their illustrious genealogy and by bearing children to extend their legacy. The mother of the Virgin Mary, St. Anne, was a model for female — and male–nobles in both respects. With an intercessor like Anne on their side, there was hope of remaining in power.” 

A noble could summon the favor of St. Anne by commissioning music for themselves on that subject, or by sending it to others to curry favor, Anderson said. For example, the regent of the Netherlands, Margaret of Austria — one of the most powerful women in Western Europe in the first third of the sixteenth century — commissioned a mass for St. Anne from her court composer, Pierre de la Rue, “which could well have been a signal of her ‘eligibility’ for a marriage that could extend the rule of the eminent Habsburgs.” 

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Category: The Arts