New Acquisition: Enea Vico
By Emily Peters
The Holy Family with Saint Anne and Saint Catherine, 1542
Engraving on laid paper ;
Image/Sheet: 37 x 24.1 cm (14 9/16 x 9 1/2 inches)
Mary B. Jackson Fund
Enea Vico created this print early in his career, when he was learning the art of engraving in Rome. The shallow, dark background — reminiscent of relief sculpture — and the monumental figural group demonstrate the artist’s fascination with the antique, as well as with more recent works by his contemporaries Michelangelo and Raphael. The packed composition includes the seated Virgin Mary and Child in a loving embrace, looking out toward the viewer. Behind them to the left is Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin; below her is the infant Saint John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus.
Further in the background is Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary. The extended family group was a popular subject in mid-16th-century Italy, emphasizing both worldly and spiritual love. To the right, depicted in profile in a fantastic headdress, is Saint Catherine. According to legend, the Virgin gave Saint Catherine to Christin a mystical marriage. But her presence may pertain to artistic rather than spiritual aims, since her coiffured head is a direct copy of a drawing by Michelangelo that circulated widely in the period. Vico’s quotation of the drawing signifies his direct knowledge of the great masters of the age. Prints were often sites for the collection of motifs from other sources, and their owners — wealthy collectors as well as artists — would have enjoyed its myriad meanings.
The Holy Family with Saint Anne and Saint Catherine is on view in the Museum’s European galleries through June.