The Sienese artist Duccio was one of the most innovative painters of the fourteenth century. His most important work is the Maestà, the large double-sided altarpiece completed for the high altar of Siena Cathedral in 1311. There are many parallels between the narrative panels of the life of Christ on the back of the Maestà and those in this small triptych (three linked panels), which would have served as a domestic devotional image. The scenes are intended to be read in sequence, commencing with the Annunciation and Virgin and Child Enthroned to the left of the central Crucifixion, and continuing with Christ and the Virgin Enthroned and the Stigmatisation of St Francis on the right. The two enthronements are carefully balanced, neatly linking Christ, the Virgin Mary, who appears four times, and St Francis, who was regarded as the second Christ. It is likely that the triptych was commissioned for a Franciscan patron.
Reconstituted before its acquisition by Prince Albert, the painting was reframed by him in one plane and was only reconstructed as an integral triptych (with a base block) during conservation in 1988. On that occasion it was noticed that the internal perspective had been adjusted by the artist to correct the apparent distortion that resulted from the angle of the wings. Such a sophisticated approach, combined with the high quality of many of the figures, suggests that Duccio planned the painting himself, although he may have shared the execution with his assistants at a time when his workshop was helping to complete the Maestà. The triptych, a work of great richness and complexity, was heralded in the nineteenth century as one of the finest works by the master.
Purchased by the Prince Consort through Ludwig Gruner from Ludwig Metzger in Florence in April 1845 (payment dated 7 April 1846, with painting then thought to be by Fra Angelico for £190)