Mariotto Albertinelli - inv. 1116
The triptych is now protected by a modern case. The Virgin nursing her Child is depicted on the central panel, still with its original frame; on the back a skull, a so-called memento mori, reminds the devout of the destiny that awaits him. The two doors show inside Saint Catherine and Saint Barbara, and outside the Annunciation painted in monochrome. The latter scene is depicted on the closed doors in a single architectural space defined by a trompe-l'oeil frame and distinguished by a great airy pavilion tent in the background.
At the end of the fifteenth century, a monochrome exterior was not an absolutely new idea (see the triptych by Gottardo Scotti in the Museum for example). It was thought then that a triptych, with its doors closed, should appear like a modest and unassuming casket and should reveal all the splendour of its gold and brilliant colours only when open.
This triptych is a small portable altar, a typical object of private devotion, much requested by the rich Florentine middle classes from the middle of the fourteenth century onwards. Its quality led some early nineteenth-century scholars to attribute it to Raphael; others believed it instead to be by Fra' Bartolomeo. Finally experts concluded that it was a youthful work by Mariotto Albertinelli. On the lower edge of the frame of the central panel the letters 'MD' can be made out: the most recent studies tend to consider this a date, although many do not believe that the triptych could have been made at such a late date. In fact, Albertinelli can be considered as one of the last artists to produce small triptychs to be used as portable altars: a pictorial genre that was very common in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, though completely abandoned by the generation of painters that came immediately after Mariotto.