This distinguished and unusually well preserved portable altarpiece has been authoritatively attributed to Taddeo Gaddi, one of the key protagonists of Florentine trecento painting. Gaddi was a pupil of Giotto, and evidently worked with him until his death in 1337, although by then the younger painter was already receiving independent commissions, including that for the frescoes of the Baroncelli Chapel in Santa Croce (circa 1328), which are among the signal achievements of trecento art. Gaddi remained in the forefront of artistic developments throughout his career as the noble Tree of Life and the frescoes that flank this in the Refectory of Santa Croce, datable about 1360, demonstrate.
Maginnis in 1981 noted that the attribution to Taddeo had been supported by Berenson, and in 2003 Tartuferi recorded the verbal acceptance of this by Luciano Bellosi, Miklos Boskovits and Everett Fahy, and observed that the stylistic character clearly and unequivocally indicates that the triptych is a mature work by the artist, commenting on the statuesque forms of the figures, which are indeed modelled with the artist's characteristic clarity and conviction. Tartuferi points to a number of specific parallels: he compares the figures, and particularly the Angel and Virgin Annunciate and the Saint John the Evangelist on the right wing, with their larger counterparts in the altarpiece of San Giovanni Fuorcivitas, Pistoia, for which payments of 1453 are recorded; he notes similarities between the Madonna and Child and the Baptist of the central panel to the Santa Felicità pentatych which is variously dated 1354(?) by Ladis (A. Ladis, Taddeo Gaddi, Columbia and London, 1982, no. 58), whose monograph was in the press at the time of Maginnis' publication of this triptych, and about 1355-60 by Tartuferi; he points out that the Nativity of the left wing reveals a narrative taste similar to that of the celebrated panels from the sacristy at Santa Croce; and he demonstrates that the characterisation and form of Christ conforms closely with that of the Crucifix in the church of Monte San Quirico, near Lucca, which he dates about 1345 (A. Tartuferi, in the exhibition catalogue, Sumptuosa tabula picta, Pittura a Lucca tra gotico e rinascimento, Leghorn, pp. 51 ff, figs. 31 and 54). On the basis of these parallels Tartuferi advances a date of 1345-50 for the triptych. Not the least fascinating thing about this is the way it demonstrates Gaddi's continuing reference to his earlier work. Thus the Nativity is an ingenious adaptation of the composition he evolved for the Baroncelli Chapel roughly twenty years earlier, reversing the main elements of this, with the exception, for obvious compositional reasons, of Joseph, so that the Virgin faces into the triptych - her head and the strong silhouette of the mantle enfolding this echoing that of the representation opposite of her receiving the message from the angel.
In the past Taddeo Gaddi's later work has been rather underrated, but as this triptych demonstrates, there had been no diminution of his inventive or technical abilities: Gaddi remained a formidable artistic protagonist, with a sense of volume that none perhaps of his Tuscan contemporaries could match.