The canonical Gospels do not offer us any details about the last moments of the life of the Virgin: her death, her Assumption to heaven, and her coronation. On the contrary, beginning in the second century, these events were narrated in rich detail in the apocryphal Gospels, and were the object of meditation of the Fathers of the Church and of theologians during the Middle Ages.
In the thirteenth century, the image of the Coronation of the Virgin became an autonomous subject in Gothic sculpture when depicted in the portals of the cathedrals of northern Europe. An example from the early thirteenth century is seen in the splendid bezel frame in the north portal of the Cathedral of Chartres.
The same theme spread to Florence in the second half of the fourteenth century. An example is the central panel of the polyptych then in the church of San Pier Maggiore in Florence (now at the National Gallery in London) commissioned in 1370 by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini and executed by the school of Jacopo di Cione.
Perhaps the coronation presented here originally constituted the central element of a triptych, as suggested by the presence of a rich frame at the top of the panel, which is missing on the lateral sides. The reliability of this hypothesis will be explored during restoration.
The work is attributed to a post-Giotto Florentine master active in the last decades of the fourteenth century, who has yet to be definitively recognized. Critics have proposed the identity of this artist to be the same Jacopo di Cione, or an autonomous master conventionally called “Master of the Vatican Coronation” or the so-called Master of the Predella of the Ashmolean Museum.
In the gilded background of the panel are silhouettes of the figures of Christ and the Virgin, enclosed in an almond-shaped sphere framed by four blue Cherubim and four red Seraphim. In the lower area, on a beautiful tiled floor designed in perspective, St. John the Baptist and St. Bartolomeo can be seen on the right, and behind them a deacon and a saint (perhaps Stephen or Lorenzo, and Catherine of Alexandria). On the left in the foreground are saints Peter and Paul, Galgano and Augustine. Two musician angels kneel in the center. In the predella, a dying Christ represented, in the typology of Vir Dolorum, is surrounded on the left by St. Francis of Assisi and St. John the Baptist, and on the right by the Virgin and St. Mary Magdalene. Two heraldic unidentified coats of arms are painted on the edge of the pictorial field.
The painting was in the collection of the Sacred Museum of the Vatican Library from the year 1888 (Inventory of Carlo Descemet, showcase I IV, N. 206) and was transferred to the Vatican Pinacoteca in 1909. The original provenance remains unknown. Its dimensions and typology indicate that it was destined for a noble chapel or small private altar.