(b. 1412, Firenze, d. 1459, Firenze)

Nativity and Adoration of the Magi

Tempera on wood, 21 x 117 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

This work belongs to a group of mid-fifteenth-century Florentine paintings which could be attributed to Giovanni di Francesco, formerly known as the Master of the Carrand Triptych. It seems too large to have functioned as a predella, for it would not fit below an individual section of a polyptych. However, it could have served as the lower part of a single-field altarpiece.

The composition with two scenes depicting the Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi is rather sophisticated. The placement of the walls at an angle and the use of this background two divide the two scenes; the alternation of figures in frontal and profile view; and the contrast of fully lit and penumbral areas attest to a strict spatial logic deployed to create a unified stage setting. The imposing wall is rendered with an obsession for architectural detail and measured by the grid formed by the scaffolding holes. Breaches in the wall enliven the scene by providing views onto the landscape, while elsewhere the wall remains intact and serves as backdrop for the figures. Although this type of background was inspired by Fra Angelico's Adoration of the Magi, its figurative weight anticipates Baldovinetti's Nativity in the Santissima Annunziata and the later paintings of the Nativity by Fra Filippo Lippi in Spoleto and Fra Diamante.