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In the early 14th century, Florence, on the banks of the river Arno, was one of Europe’s greatest economic and cultural centres. The city’s currency, the florin, was central to international commerce, and Florentines dominated the continent’s wool trade.

Even the Black Death, a catastrophic outbreak of bubonic plague, to which all of Europe succumbed in the late 1340s, did not put an end to the city’s rise.

Florence’s wealth meant that there was a ready market for art in the city. Many of the paintings in this room were made as parts of altarpieces, to play a role in Christian worship in the city’s numerous parish churches, monasteries and convents – numbering 110 in 1338. Jacopo di Cione’s altarpiece (reconstituted on the large wall of this room) for the high altar of the abbey church of the Benedictine nuns of San Pier Maggiore shows the opulence and grandeur of such commissions. The Florentines who paid for it – probably members of the noble Albizzi family – hoped in return for a place in the nuns’ prayers.

Florentine painters, well into the fifteenth century, were inspired by the example of their compatriot Giotto, by Duccio and other Sienese artists, and by contemporary sculptors. They strove to produce works which gave a sense of the divine, and yet were both naturalistic and monumental.