Giusto de’ Menabuoi’s little triptych in the National Gallery is signed and dated. With its moveable wings and clearly identifiable subject matter it might seem to be, literally, an open and shut case. However, there is no consensus as to its origins and original ownership, and its purpose is only vaguely understood as ‘devotional’. This paper advances the idea that it was made for a young girl upon her becoming a nun. With this in mind, new perspectives on the triptych can be considered. Intended to serve the new nun in her devotions for her entire life it may nevertheless have held special resonances for her as a child. We can understand it as a memento of family and of a childhood home; as a prize for achievement on a rite of passage; as a prompt to do well in her entrance exams; even as a holy plaything or ‘doll’s chapel’.
Laura Jacobus is a retired Senior Lecturer at Birkbeck, and organizer of the Murray Seminars on Medieval and Renaissance Art .
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