Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus (1333)
By Simone Martini

Interpretation of Sienese Annunciation Triptych

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"Annunciation Triptych" (1333)
Detail of centre panel.
By Simone Martini (1284-1344)
Considered to be one of the
Greatest Paintings Ever.

COMPARE Martini's
work with Fra Angelico's
Annunciation (1450).

The Annunciation Triptych (1333)
With St Margaret and St Ansanus


Other Famous Paintings by Simone Martini
Other Important Paintings of the 14th Century


Name: Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus (1333)
Artist: Simone Martini (1284-1344) and Lippo Memmi
Medium: Tempera and gold on panel
Genre: Biblical art
Movement: Sienese School of painting
Location: Uffizi Gallery, Florence

For analysis and explanation of other important pictures from the Renaissance, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).

For analysis of paintings by
Sienese painters, like
Simone Martini, see
our educational articles:
Art Evaluation and
How to Appreciate Paintings.

Analysis of Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus
(The Annunciation Triptych) by Simone Martini

The "Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus" is one of the finest religious paintings completed by Simone Martini (1284-1344), with the help of his brother-in-law and most important follower Lippo Memmi (1291-1356). Created for Siena's cathedral, the work consists of three panel paintings painted in tempera and gold, with a double-sized centre-panel. Martini had been a pupil of Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319) when the latter was working on the Maesta Altarpiece (1308-11) for Siena Cathedral, some twenty years earlier, and this new altarpiece would represent Sienese culture at its very peak. Although there are no recorded details about who painted what, some experts believe that Martini painted the centre panel, while Memmi painted the side saints and the tondoes. The painting remained in the cathedral until 1799, when it was transferred to Florence.



The triptych consists of a large centre panel illustrating the Annunciation, flanked by two side panels showing Saint Ansanus on the left, and Saint Margaret (or Saint Maxima) on the right, plus four tondoes in the upper cusps: Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Daniel. The central panel shows Archangel Gabriel entering the house of the Virgin Mary to announce that she has been selected to give birth to Jesus. Gabriel holds an olive branch (a traditional symbol of peace) in his left hand, while his right hand indicates the Holy Ghost's dove as it descends from heaven. The background is entirely gilt, with a vase of lilies in the middle, representing the purity of the Virgin Mary. The work originally decorated the Chapel of Saint Ansanus in the Cathedral of Siena, and was part of a series of four altarpieces - commissioned during the period 1330-1350 - dedicated to Mary and to the city's patron saints (St. Ansanus, St. Crescentius, St. Sabinus of Spoleto, and St. Victor). The other three are the Presentation at the Temple (1342) by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Active 1319-48) for the Altar of Saint Crescentius; the Nativity of the Virgin (1342) by Pietro Lorenzetti (active 1320-45) for the Altar of Saint Sabinus; and a Nativity (1351) attributed to Bartolomeo Bulgarini for the Altar of Saint Victor.

NOTE: For other Sienese artists, see: Sassetta (c.1395-1450) and Giovanni di Paolo (1403-1483).

Siena's great cathedral (designed and built 1215-63) was the centrepiece of the city. Its exterior walls were adorned with green and white marble, and its facade was decorated with a variety of Gothic sculpture and stone carvings. Inside, there was more marble decoration and - like other Gothic cathedrals - a mass of stained glass art creating beams of coloured light. But the most striking of the cathedral's decorations - all ornamented with extensive gold leafing as well as lapis lazuli, one of the rarest and most expensive colour pigments - were its panelled altarpieces exemplified by Martini's Annunciation.

This altar painting offers a perfect example of the highly developed focus on line in Pre-Renaissance painting of the 14th century. Surrounded by the brilliance of the golden decoration, the figures are presented in a non-realistic space, typical of Gothic-style Byzantine art. And yet within these parameters Martini succeeds in evoking a powerful dynamic between the gesture of the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin's emotional response. Gabriel is depicted in a way that indicates movement - his gown is still swirling due to his sudden arrival - while the Virgin seems almost to recoil at the startling announcement of her holy pregnancy, discarding her book in the process. This animated scene is what makes this medieval painting so different from other Gothic paintings. Although limited in scope by the flat two-dimensional style of the trecento, Martini succeeds in creating a dramatic "moment" which is truly modern.

Other Famous Paintings by Simone Martini

Maesta (1315) Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.

Guidoriccio da Fogliano fresco (1328) Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.

St Louis of Toulouse Crowning King Robert (1317) Capodimonte, Naples.

Deposition from the Cross (1334) Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp.

Other Important Paintings of the 14th Century

For an interpretation of other paintings of the trecento not cited above, see the following articles:

Betrayal of Christ (Kiss of Judas) (1305) By Giotto
Fresco, Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua.

Lamentation of Christ (1305) By Giotto
Fresco, Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua.

Allegory of Good and Bad Government (1338-9) By Ambrogio Lorenzetti
Fresco, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.

Dijon Altarpiece (1394-99) By Melchior Broederlam
Tempera on panel, Museum of Fine Arts, Dijon.

The Wilton Diptych (1395-99) by Unknown Artist
Egg tempera on oak panel, National Gallery, London.


• For the meaning and interpretation of other 14th century altarpieces, see: Homepage.

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