CARNEVALE, Fra
(b. ca. 1425, Urbino, d. 1484, Urbino)

The Birth of the Virgin

1467
Tempera and oil on wood, 145 x 96 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Two panels of virtually the same size, depicting scenes constructed on a precisely mirror-image perspective grid, are in the centre of sustained scholarly debate which extends to both the subjects, the function, and the authorship. They depict ostensibly religious subjects with a plethora of detail taken, on the one hand, from contemporary life and inspired, on the other, by humanist-antiquarian interests. One of the panels (in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) represents the Birth of the Virgin, the other (in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) probably shows the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple.

These two highly original pictures can be identified with an altarpiece painted by Fra Carnevale for a lay fraternity of flagellants in the hospital church of Santa Maria della Bella in Urbino. In the seventeenth century the altarpiece was confiscated by Cardinal Antonio Barberini, and in the 1930s they were sold from the Barberini collection to the museums in New York and Boston.