St Anne, the Virgin and Child in a garden
Enclosed within an illusionistic picture frame, this miniature, devoted to the Virgin’s mother, Anne, functions as a small devotional panel. Anne is shown seated in a stylised garden, reading from a book, with her daughter at her feet. Bening’s skilful manipulation of linear perspective, and the juxtaposition of normal and raised points of view, renders the landscape as a deeply receding space and thrusts into the foreground the Nativity of the Virgin depicted in the lower border. The sophisticated use of colour contributes to these effects: the pale blue sky behind St Anne contrasts with the darker sky of the border, bringing the latter closer to the viewer and making it seem as if we are observing the central image through a window.
In the charming border scene, with details drawn from daily life, Anne, having just given birth, is offered a plate of food, while a midwife sits by the fireside cradling the infant Mary. Flames of shell gold, lead-tin yellow and red lead in the fireplace warm the newborn child who precociously raises her tiny palms towards the heat.