Simone Martini was one of the leading painters of his time, whose highly refined technique and descriptive powers were unequalled in Europe and earned the praise and friendship of the Italian poet Petrarch (1304–1374). This panel, together with a related work depicting Saint Ansanus in the Robert Lehman Collection (1975.1.13) and a third panel of Saint Andrew (41.100.23) in the European Paintings Collection, formed part of an altarpiece that was possibly commissioned by the civic government of Siena. The format of the polyptych (multi-paneled altarpiece) was highly unusual in that the central image, the present Madonna and Child, was the same size as the flanking panels, allowing the entire altarpiece, which was intended to be portable, to be easily folded and moved. Like the other two panels from this polyptych in the Museum's collection, the Madonna and Child survives with its original frame intact. In the fifteenth century, Simone's panels were incorporated as the central elements of a larger altarpiece in the principal chapel of the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena's town hall.
The altarpiece's five panels are, left to right: Saint Ansanus (Robert Lehman Collection, MMA), Saint Peter (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), Madonna and Child (Robert Lehman Collection, MMA), Saint Andrew (European Paintings, MMA), and Saint Luke (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles). For a reconstruction of the altarpiece, see http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/437675 (additional images).