The Virgin Mary appears here according the the earliest type in the iconographical tradition of representing the Holy House of Loreto. Venerated since the fifteenth century as one of the most holy sites in Christendom, the Sacra Casa is a small cottage-like structure that stands within a domed basilica in the Marche, near Ancona. Therein, a statue of the Madonna and Child appears with an inscription that recounts how the House of the Virgin, in which she received the Annunciation, was miraculously carried by angels out of Nazareth in 1291 and, after making several stops, settled four years later in Loreto. The Master of Staffolo represented the Madonna di Loreto in a similar manner in his triptych at Domo (near Fabriano), where the architecture is supported by two angels rather than four, as in the present panel. Saint Bernardino of Siena, who died in 1444, appears on the right with a halo, indicating that this panel was painted after his canonization in 1450.
The Master of Staffolo is the name given to the anonymous painter of the high altar of the church of Sant'Egidio in the Marchigian town of Staffolo. Working under the influence of Gentile da Fabriano, this painter enjoyed substantial success in the second quarter of the fifteenth century, and according to Andrea de Marchi, may possibly be identified as Costantino di Franceschino di Cicco di Nicoluccio, a painter who also played a prominent role in local politics (see A. de Marchi, Gentile da Fabriano: un viaggio nella pittura italiana alla fine del gotico, Milan, 1992, pp. 112-112, 127, 129 and C.B. Strehlke, Italian Paintings 1250-1450 in the John G. Johnson collection and the Philadephia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 2004, pp. 311).
We are grateful to Dr. Andrea de Marchi for confirming the attribution on the basis of photographs (private communication, 5 April 2012) and to Dr. Matteo Mazzalupi for his assistance in cataloguing this painting.