The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist

Leonardo cartoon

It was a bit over five hundred years ago that Leonardo da Vinci drew the cartoon shown above. It is thought to have been a study for a larger religious painting, but apparently that work never came to be. As it is, the cartoon has developed a life of its own as a master work, and is now displayed in a special room in the National Gallery in London. I’ve always loved this picture – as much for its flaws as for its perfection. Here’s my modest tribute.


The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist

For starters, it’s not clear to me
whose legs belong to whom – is Mary
sitting side-saddle or on-the-stool?
I get that Jesus is blessing his cousin
but how come he has a receding hairline?
And that hand – the oversized one pointing
at the sky like it’s just dredged something
improbable from one of the kids’ nostrils
– did Leonardo forget to draw it first time round?
Then there’s Anne’s black eye – no one
is talking about that – but it’s pretty obvious.
And why, oh why, is no one wearing a shirt?
With that much gauzy fabric hanging around,
the least Mary can do is cover up a bit.
They call it a cartoon,
but I don’t think it’s very funny.



About Andrew Kreider

I'm a poet and musician,transplanted from London, England to beautiful northern Indiana. By day I am a stay-at-home dad with our three kids while my amazingly talented spouse conquers medical school one long shift at a time. At night, I'm a performer and trouble-maker. I love my life.

11 responses »

  1. Wonderful – I love how you expect a classic like this to be relatable to the modern man, Witty and splendid – loved this.

  2. Andrew, you are one sly dog. You know, I just cut this pic out of an old children’s book (already demolished) and it was good enough to frame… and as freaky as it may sound, with the exception of the clothing missing, I asked myself EVERY SINGLE QUESTION. Especially the disembodied hand, except that anytime daVinci painted St. John, there was always a finger pointed UP as a reminder that Jesus said to worship God, not him. Then, of course, they made up the Trinity so that was all handled for us. Ah, I love the United Church of Christ because we still bandy about these questions… such as why I don’t believe in the Trinity. Leave it to me to have more faith in daVinci that the Council at Nicea, ha ha ha. Amy

  3. I really enjoyed this, Andrew, but I have two questions that you didn’t ask:

    i) Who is/was St Anne? I’m not up on all the saints of the Catholic church.
    ii) Where is Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother?

    • Thanks for stopping by, Tony! I have no idea where Elizabeth is – seems very odd! St Anne, meanwhile, is the mother of Mary. Apparently, Leonardo did a mashup of two familiar themes – Mary and her mother with Jesus, and Mary and Jesus with John the Baptist. I wonder if no one wanted the resulting grouping, because there is no record of this sketch becoming a finished painting!

  4. ha. a booger on the finger….now that would be something to capture in art most assuredly….translating the classics into modern makes it a little more interesting now doesnt it….smiles….dang nice hit on the black eye as well….intriguing observation…and why is it we never talk about it….

  5. You do present something of a conundrum, but well.>KB

  6. That’s funny. But the shirt thing is obvious: boobs, man. Things haven’t changed that much over the millenia…. 🙂 da Vinci was a genius.

  7. Very entertaining interpretation! I enjoyed every word!

  8. But that booger on the finger probably ended up under the pew in a rather ungracious swipe. An interesting take on dog-earred dogma, Andrew. Splendid write!

  9. Your work always leaves me inspired to write as well as you do. Nicely done.


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