Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijin (Leida 1606 – Amsterdam 1669), Anne the Prophetess, 1639, oil on oak wood, oval of 79,5 x 61,7 cm, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Month of March.
Women of the New Testament: Anne.
There was a prophetess, too, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in year, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem. (Lk 2, 36-38)
The painting, which portrays a very elderly woman, has often been interpreted as the portrait of the painter’s mother. In fact, Rembrandt has always painted himself and his family, especially his wife Saskia and their fourth son Titus (the first three, unfortunately, died at an early age), in the course of his whole life.
However, two elements allow us to identify this elderly woman as the old prophetess described at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke: the walking stick and the prayer shawl. These are two simple elements that give us two clear indications about Anne: on the one side, and despite the advanced age, Anne is always and constantly moving inside the temple of Jerusalem, in particular near the altar of the Lord Almighty, and probably she is waiting for the conception of God’s promises to give, that is, a Messiah to the people of Israel. On the other side, since childhood, she decided that once widowed, she would dedicate her life exclusively to prayer and fasting to the service of God.
If we look at the painting, we can first notice the woman's desire to contemplate the Lord's glory. The many wrinkles on her face represent almost a crown to her gaze. She is not looking to us spectators. We imagine Anne suddenly still in the Temple watching Jesus Child leaving, in his mother’s arms and under the watchful eye of his father Joseph. The Gospel does not report words from Anne but portrays her figure using three verbs: “to occur”, “to praise” and “to talk”.
Truthfully, the portrait that Rembrandt has left us seems to present all the actions that the Gospel describes us: Anne has just arrived and has stopped in contemplation of Jesus Child; Anne has the mouth almost open almost indicating her praise that rises to God for the unexpected gift regarding the view of the Messiah and she is ready to announce this important news to the visitors of the Temple.
This portrait is really extraordinary and it can turn into a kind of admiration of old age, that is the period in which the colours are definitely dark but, at the same time, there is always the light that reverberates on her face and which seems to spread over us that are admiring the painting.
For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counsellor,
God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast and forever peaceful,
From David's throne, and over his kingdom,
which he confirms and sustains
By judgment and justice, both now and forever.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this!
(Isaiah 9, 5-6)
(Contribution by Vito Pongolini)