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Altarpieces were among the most ambitious works of art made in Florence during the period known today as the Early Renaissance. Standing on the altars of churches, private chapels and convents, they provided a backdrop for the celebration of Mass, when the bread and wine are consecrated. Altarpieces were commissioned by a wide variety of patrons, from wealthy citizens and high-ranking clerics, to religious institutions and corporate groups such as guilds.

Florentine altarpieces varied considerably in size and construction. Jacopo di Cione’s San Pier Maggiore ‘polyptych’, a multi-panelled ensemble originally set within an ornate architectural frame, exemplifies the most popular altarpiece type of the 14th century. Later, this format was superseded with the innovation of a single-field, spatially unified image, such as Francesco Pesellino’s Santa Trinità Altarpiece.

Most of the paintings in this room are fragments of larger altarpieces. Many of them come from religious institutions that were suppressed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. At this time, altarpieces were often cut into pieces and sold as separate art works. Today they are scattered in museums and collections around the world.