About this artwork

In this painting the Virgin and her mother, St. Anne, sit side by side. They offer the Christ Child an apple, a reference to the forbidden fruit Eve offered Adam in the Garden of Eden. It is also a symbol of the burden of the sins of mankind that Christ will bear. Benson’s elegant figures are painted with rich colours using his typically delicate touch, and both the Virgin and her mother are given equal compositional importance. This results in a superbly balanced image. In the left background, an angel draws water from the Fountain of Life. Benson was renowned for such small scale devotional pieces, teeming with incident and detail.

Ambrosius Benson

Ambrosius Benson

Benson was born in Lombardy, but moved to Bruges in the southern Netherlands after spending some time in Spain. He arrived in Bruges in 1518, and by the following year he had gained entry into the local guild of painters as an independent master. Benson was already a successful painter of portraits and altarpieces prior to his arrival, but in Bruges he worked for a short time in the studio of Gerard David. His paintings owe much to David’s style, but also reflect the art of his native Lombardy and the painters who worked there, such as Leonardo. Benson was enormously successful; his reputation brought him public commissions and his work was extremely sought after, fetching high prices.