Virgin and Child with St Anne, c.1503-1519

Oil on poplar, 168.4 x 113cm Paris, Musee du Louvre


The support consist of four boards glued vertically together and reinforced at the rear with two softwood crosspieces. Two strips of oak with a combined width of 18 cm were added on to the two vertical sides of the panel. The picture thus originally measured only 112 cm wide.
A vertical crack is clearly visible on the front and runs just to the left of center from the top of the panel more or less to the Virgin's chest.
The painting remains unfinished in a number of pieces, which is in only mediocre condition.The most finished elements of the composition are the heads of the figures and parts of the landscape.
While the figures are unanimously considered to be the work of Leonardo himself, some authors see the hand an assistant in sections of the background. Description of the state of the painting vary.

The painting was commissioned as the high altarpiece for the Church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence and its theme had long preoccupied Leonardo.
There is a cartoon in the National Gallery in London by Leonardo of the same subject but differing in important respects from the Louvre painting. We know from a letter that Leonardo made another cartoon, now lost.

The provenance of the painting is well documented.
Antonio de Beatis mentioned seeing the painting during the visit he paid to Leonardo's workshop in Cloux in 1517.
There are two possibilities as to what happened to the painting in the years that followed. It may have been sold, along with a number of other paintings by Leonardo, to the King of France at the end of 1518, a document of 1518 speaks of a very high sum of money being paid to Leonardo's pupil Salai, which possibly relates to a sale of paintings.
Alternatively, following Leonardo's death it may have been taken back to Milan by Salai, only to return shortly afterwards to France.
A painting of St Anne certainly appears in the inventory of Salai's estate drawn up in 1525 and in another Milanese inventory of 1531.
The first theory is supported by a passage from Paolo Giovio's short biography of Leonardo of c.1523-1527: "There still survives a panel painting of the infant Jesus, who is playing with Mary his Mother and his grandmother Anne. The French king bought te painting and put it on display in his chapel".
Similar information - albeit possibly relating to a cartoon - is provided by Antonio Billi, who in 1527-1530 wrote of Leonardo: "He produced numerous wonderful drawings, including a Madonna with St Anne, which went to France".
This information was then repeated by the Anonimo Gaddiano. Vasari subsequently amended the second edition of his Lives of the Arists to include the same reference to a cartoon of St Anne that had been taken to France.
A Virgin and Child with St Anne and a lamb is lastly also described by Gerolamo Casio between 1525 and 1528, although no mention is made of the painting's location.