Adoration of the Child (recto) and archangel Gabriel (verso); Presentation in the Temple (recto) and Annunciation
Baccio della Porta known as Fra Bartolomeo (Florence 1473- 1517)
The two tablets are painted on both sides and were originally part of a small tabernacle with scenes from the Jesus's childhood. When the doors were closed, the monochrome scene of the Annunciation remained visible, set in a simple and unadorned room, dominated by a high portal in serena stone, beyond which a second angel can be seen, who has come to join Gabriel in the task of announcing Mary's imminent motherhood to her. On this side you can also see the removals corresponding to the portal on the angel's side, at the foot of Mary's prie-dieu and above all at the top, since the legs of two putti holding a tondo appear on the portal frame. The open valves showed on the left, behind the Archangel Gabriel, the Adoration of the Child, set in a quiet landscape of rocks and small trees that line a river and slope slowly towards the bottom of blue mountains. On the right, behind the Virgin Annunciate, the narration continues with the episode of the Presentation in the Temple, i.e. the moment when Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the priest Simeon and the latter recognises him as the Messiah, Son of God. According to Giorgio Vasari, in the middle of the two panels was a marble tablet with a Madonna and Child sculpted by Donatello, now identified as the so-called Dudley Madonna, preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (Inv. A.84-1927). The ensemble thus composed was owned by Piero del Pugliese, a wealthy Florentine merchant and public figure who was a passionate art collector. It was probably Piero del Pugliese himself who commissioned the two compartments from Fra Bartolomeo, to decorate and protect Donatello's relief. Fra Bartolomeo certainly drew inspiration from the latter to find the infinite and composed purity of the faces, the fluid rhythm of the draperies, the spiritual but at the same time also very human atmosphere that emanates from his painting. The use of monochrome while hinting at, by faking the sculpture, the real relief underneath, also follows a custom typical of Flemish triptychs (for example, the Portinari Triptych by Hugo Van der Goes (Inv. 1890 nos. 3191, 3192, 3193). Despite their small size, the paintings are imposing because the feeling of space and forms is no longer 15th century, but already has the grandeur and air of the modern style.
F. Caglioti, A. De Marchi, schede in Il Giardino di San Marco, Firenze 1992, pp. 72-78, n. 14 e pp. 78- 82, n. 15; E. Fahy, scheda in Fra Bartolomeo. L’età di Savonarola, Firenze 1996, pp. 66-69, n. 10.