July 26th is the Feast Day of St Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary. St Anne is the patron saint of mothers and of women in labour. She was also the patron saint of the palafrenieri, the papal grooms.
In 1604, the palafrenieri commissioned Michelangelo Merisi di Caravaggio (1571-1610) to paint an image of the Virgin and Child with St Anne for the high altar of the church of Sant' Anna dei Palafrenieri, which lies in Vatican City. The painting remained in place for less than a month before it was taken down and sold (at a profit) to Cardinal Scipione Borghese. It now hangs in the Galleria Borghese. Not for the first time, a work by Caravaggio was rejected by the very people who had commissioned it.
The Madonna dei Palafrenieri, as the painting is known, depicts three figures of the Holy Family, the Virgin Mary, the Christ Child and St Anne, Mary's mother. Mary holds Christ and together they stamp on the head of a snake, while St Anne looks on.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
Search Walks in Rome: