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Master of the Osservanza, The Birth of the Virgin

Key facts
Full title The Birth of the Virgin
Artist Master of the Osservanza
Artist dates active about 1425 - about 1450
Date made about 1440
Medium and support Egg tempera on wood
Dimensions 31.9 × 50.9 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Viscount Rothermere, 1940
Inventory number NG5114
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Birth of the Virgin
Master of the Osservanza

This triptych (a painting in three parts) shows the Virgin Mary just after her birth. Saint Anne, Mary’s mother, props herself up in her bed while midwives and attendants make food and prepare a basin for washing. This scene was particularly popular in Siena, a city devoted to the Virgin Mary.

The artist has taken its overall design and various details – like the little boy announcing the news to Saint Joachim, Mary’s father – from a famous Sienese altarpiece showing the same scene, which was made by Pietro Lorenzetti in the 1340s for Siena’s cathedral.

The side panels, or wings, would have folded inwards to cover the central image. The triptych could then be transported safely and conveniently with its owner, providing a focus for prayer on their travels.

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