(b. 1449, Firenze, d. 1494, Firenze)
Coronation of the Virgin1486
Tempera on wood, 330 x 230 cm
Palazzo Comunale, Narni
With some altar paintings the intention was to venerate the Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven, and this meant that the traditional Sacra Conversazione was not suited to the task. In cases such as this the painters divided the picture horizontally so that they could show the Coronation of the Virgin taking place above a row of saints. Vertical panels with rounded tops were particularly well suited to such compositions. Two panels on this theme by Ghirlandaio, both dating from about 1486, have survived. Though at first sight both works appear completely different, both are in keeping with the traditional form for this type of picture.
In the Coronation in the town of Narni, the gold background, which jars with the other colours, and also the number of saints and angels crowding the picture, are unusual for Ghirlandaio. It is possible that the clients from the provinces in Umbria had requested this conservative structural method. In both works Ghirlandaio's workshop is considered to have painted a large proportion of the work, but despite this the painting in Narni, Ghirlandaio's largest panel painting, was so successful that it was later copied more than once.
In this panel Christ and his Mother appear on clouds amid the hosts of heaven. The angels are making music while Christ places the crown of the Queen of Heaven on the bowed head of the humble Virgin. In the lower register, many holy man and women are kneeling around St Francis and taking part in prayer in the solemn ceremony.