This exquisite panel depicts the Virgin Annunciate, her right arm across her body, her eyes cast down as she receives the tidings. Under her blue mantle she wears a richly ornamented robe of red and gold. Measuring only five inches in height and with an added triangular piece of wood to make this an independent rectangular image, this panel is clearly the upper register of the right-hand shutter of a portable altarpiece. Following its appearance at auction in 2001 where it was described as being by a 'Follower of Lorenzo di Bicci' (see provenance above) it was recognized by Laurence Kanter, Keith Christiansen, Everett Fahy and Michel Laclotte as an autograph work by the Sienese quattrocento master Giovanni di Paolo.
Giovanni di Paolo was an independent artist who managed to thrive in a Siena which was on the one hand conservative and on the other responsive to such inventive minds as Sassetta and the Osservanza Master. Like these artists, Giovanni di Paolo had remarkable narrative gifts as an artist as is clear from such masterpieces as The Life of John the Baptist (Art Institute of Chicago), The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (Robert Lehman Collection, Metropolitan Museum, New York) and the Paradise (Metropolitan Museum, New York). His early training seems to have included contact with Lombard artists (his earliest patron was the Lombard Anna Castiglione a relative of Cardinal Castiglione Branda, patron of Vecchietta) and probably French artists too. He could, for example, have known the Limbourg brothers, the Franco-Flemish illuminators who were in Siena in 1413. Certainly the nervous, staccato quality of line that distinguishes his work from that of his Sienese contemporaries betrays an assimilation of Lombard and French Gothic forms. By the mid 1420s Giovanni di Paolo's career was flourishing and from that period come the Pecci and Branchini altarpieces (Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena and Norton Simon Museum, San Marino) which both show the influence of Gentile da Fabriano who had painted a (now lost) altarpiece in 1425/6 for the Sienese Notaries Guild.
The present work dates from the end of his early maturity. Federico Zeri proposed the reconstruction of shutters of a portable triptych which sets an Archangel Gabriel (Musée du Petit Palais, Avignon - fig.1) above a Saint James the Major (Mason Perkins collection, Assisi) and places opposite a Saint Christopher (formerly E. Moratilla collection, Paris). The Weisl Virgin Annunciate (unknown to Zeri) then belongs above Saint Christopher. The central panel, probably a Crucifixion, remains untraced. All the panels have been trimmed to some degree: this measures 9.2 cm wide, the Avignon Archangel 10 cm., the Saint Christopher 13.5 cm. and the Saint James 11.5 cm. This arrangement has won universal acceptance and is borne out not only by the subject matter, but by the size, the way the panels of both the Angel and the Virgin have been made up in the same way, and by the identical punchwork and decoration of the gold with the five-petalled flowers in the haloes and the distinctive delicate foliate design on the panel's outer border. In addition, the delicate application of gold ornament to the robes of the Saint Christopher and the Angel exactly match that of the Virgin. Both Saint James Major and Saint Christopher were protectors of travelers, which would make this portable altarpiece iconographically appropriate for the use of merchants or pilgrims.