The Saint Anne Trinity Group is a devotional work, initially placed in a niche, a retable or a tabernacle. It is meant to be set against a wall: the back of the sculpture, relatively flat, is not sculpted. The brutal interruption of the volumes at the base of the work, including the fact that the feet do not rest on a support of any kind, leads us to think that the work once had a base. This hypothesis is supported by the presence of remains of polychromy (silvering) in a recess under the work, which was perhaps initially partly visible. - The wood The work is carved from a light-coloured wood, a homogeneous broad-leaved tree whose aspect strongly suggests limewood, en essence frequently used for sculpture in Eastern France and in the Germanic countries in particular Southern Germany and Alsace. The sculpture is carved out of a halved section of lime tree. The base of the tree, wider, seems to be located in the inferior part of the sculpture. A knot is visible one third up the height of the sculpture. Under the base one can identify radial grooves, emanating from the heart of the section, which has been cut out: responsible for pressure on the wood, the heart could indeed favor the appearance of grooves. The orientation of the heart seems to follow the slightly oblique medullary canal, worked with a tool on the back, in the central section. On the back, the fibrous texture of the wood, visible in some parts, indicates that the halved section of lime tree was split before being reworked with a tool in order to obtain a flat surface. - Carving the wood
General structure The sculpture is carved from a single principle piece of wood, to which several other pieces have been added. The joints between the pieces of wood are discreet, indicating that the assembling and pasting were carefully executed, as was generally the case in Germanic regions. Original supplementary wooden pieces: The observations carried out during a close study of the work confirm the radiographic examination.
On Saint Anne: -The face, including the front part of the veil of Saint Anne, up to the neck, is a separate piece of wood. The extremity of the shoe is one as well. -A small piece of drapery has been added on the left side of the coat On the Virgin:
Each arm (the left arm has an extra piece on the wrist) and the right side of the dress (assemblage reinforced by two great dowels)
Fingers of the left hand
The extremity of the left foot and probably that of the right foot which is today a repair
The crown: today’s one is a late restitution. But the fact that Saint Anne’s dress presents a recess just at the level of the crown confirms the fact that a crown, thought of as a separate piece, probably jeweled metalwork, was meant to occupy this place from conception.
On the Child: -Parts sculpted in relief compared to the principle halved section of limewood: Right leg Left arm, made of two pieces of wood (forearm held by two dowels, and arm, up to the shoulder)
Traces of tooling on the sculpture: The carving of the sculpture conforms in every way with the tradition of Germanic workshops towards the end of the Middle Ages. The back of the work is particularly interesting to observe: one can identify the tools that were used, their traces having been left rough. Elsewhere the wood has been carefully polished before applying the polychromy. The sculpture was sculpted horizontally, as it was generally practiced in Germanic workshops. One can indeed see traces of the workbench in which it was clamped: three ancient marks left by the claws of the workbench, two of which, more important, aligned on the top of the head, must have served to hold the halved section of limewood in place during the carving. Other marks due to the workbench must have been located under the base, but the latter were probably sawed off before the execution of the polychromy. Traces of fastening and securing system: There are a few traces of apparent fastening. Was the sculpture simply placed in the retable or the tabernacle without further securing system? This could be the case. However, one notices some very small marks, three of which are under the base. They are scarcely visible they are so small: are they marks left by nails or due to the workbench? A forged nail is also visible: is it part of an ancient fastening or securing system? There are a few orifices on the back of the heads. Behind Saint Anne’s head are two large cavities, placed one above the other, which seems to indicate that they served to hold a halo. The top one is surmounted by a vertical piercing which seems more ancient and which presents signs of tearing off. Perhaps it also served to hold a halo, or, even more probable, to hold three rays. On the back of the Child’s head, five cavities must have played a similar role, to hold gilded wooden or metal rays (the two lower ones, however, seem modern). Missing original elements: The original crown has been replaced by a silver crown (towards the end of the 19th century?), at a time when the sculpture was probably still an object of devotion. The haloes or rays around the heads of Saint Anne and the Child are also lost.
The original polychromy The original gilding and silvering have been only partly preserved leaving the white preparation underneath apparent, as well as the red ground. The coloured, translucent green, blue and red glazes which covered them are preserved only in the recesses. The different levels of polychromy have been mixed during a late scouring, preventing the stratigraphic study to be carried any further (analysis of the polychromy with a binocular magnifying glass led to the discovery of the remains of at least two overpaints over the original polychromy, but there undoubtedly must have been more). Today and after our restoration, the surface of the work essentially presents the original polychromy (gilded or silvered clothing, carnations of the face of Saint Anne). However, the carnations of the Child and of the Virgin correspond to the first overpaint (18th century?), just as the underlying white of the veil of Saint Anne and the pieces of drapery around her neck and the Virgin’s. One must however point out that the original polychromy is present under the overpaint of the carnations of the Child and the Virgin, as well as of the veil of Saint Anne. By its conception, the most ancient polychromy and the original one, as far as we can tell, belongs to the Baroque period: it is indeed characterized by the predominant use of gilding and silvering themselves covered by coloured and translucent red, orange, blue and green glazes. The clothes of Saint Anne and the Virgin are complex and their reading was facilitated by the polychromy, the different parts of the clothing being made clearer thanks to differences in colour treatment. Execution The original polychromy was first executed on the sculpture laid horizontally, for the application and the preparation of the ground and the application of the gold and silver leafing. Indeed, we noticed that the surface underneath the base, inaccessible when the work is positioned vertically, presents traces of the ground as well as the silvering in a recess of a fold of Saint Anne’s mantle. Over the white preparation, still very visible on the reverse, the orange-hued ground, underlying the gold and silver leafing, has been applied generously. It can indeed be found on almost all the surface, for example on Saint Anne’s left hand, which was not however destined to be covered by gold or silver. The abundance of the presence of the ground shows that from the start the intention was to give to the metallic gold and silver leaf the predominant role. Both metals are used approximately to the same extent. After the application and the burnishing with agate stone of the gold and silver leaf on all the clothing including the shoes – and probably on the hair - the coloured glazes were then painted on the sculpture held vertically: Blue on silver, on the globe held by the Child, on the reverse of the veil of Saint Anne and the reverse of the gilded drapery wrapped around the Virgin Green glaze on silver for the dress of Saint Anne, whose reverse was painted with a red glaze on silver, very visible inside the wide sleeves. A red glaze was also used for the outside of the dress of the Virgin which is decorated with an inferior golden border. It is also the case with the veil of Saint Anne, silvered (maybe covered by a light yellow glazing which has today disappeared?) and decorated with a black line painted alongside the golden border. The large pieces of clothing draped around the hips of the Virgin and the shoulders and hips of Saint Anne were reserved for gilding. Touches of gold were also present on accessories such as belts and the festooned vertical band on the bust of the Virgin. The gilding has not, it seems, conserved its coloured glazing: maybe the gold was devoid of it? We can reasonably surmise that the hair of the Virgin and of the Child were covered in gold. If this is the case, the ocher layer still in place is a preparatory mixture before applying a mat gold. Lastly, the carnations were carefully painted, executed in two very thin layers, discernible on the face of Saint Anne: over a thin pale pink layer, a second layer of a slightly deeper pink was set, with brighter highlights on the cheeks for example. The irises of the eyes were painted in brown on the three figures.