The saints in the painting are the patron saints of Medici male members. Annalena Altarpiece is considered one of the earliest examples of sacra conversazione. It's a genre of Italian Renaissance that depicts the Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus usually with a group of saints surrounding them. Some paintings include angels.
Presenting The Virgin and Child
In Annalena Altarpiece, Mary is sitting on a throne. The chair is grand with gold embellishments and a pink header. Baby Jesus is resting on her left arm, wearing a cream and orange robe that only covers him from the chest down. The Virgin is in a royal blue gown with an orange dress underneath that matches the one the infant is wearing. She is looking at the baby with a serious but loving expression on her face. At her feet, the floor is gold in colour just like most of the background.
The Virgin and Child have six saints around them, three on each side. On her left is Saints Francis, Lawrence and John the Evangelist. Saints Peter the Martyr, Cosmas and Damian, are on the right. All the figures in the piece have golden halos that add to their magnificence. In the foreground, a patch of green grass is visible just before the step. One of the foremost saints on each side is standing on the grass. The wall behind the figures has a full-length pink cornice. Combined with the green shade of the wall and the gold of the altarpiece setting, the artist manages to bring a beautiful contrast. Another version of the painting has a predella, which contains scenes that show the lives of Saints Cosmas and Damian.
Setting The Pace
Fra Angelico's Annalena Altarpiece is credited as the first painting of the sacra conversazione style. He did other pieces in the same category. One is the San Marco Altarpiece painted between 1448 and 1443. Another is the Fiesole Altarpiece, which the Dominican friar did for his church. All these pieces are similar in some style aspects, such as the positioning of the mother and child. Unlike San Marco Altarpiece, Annalena Altarpiece doesn't include angels. However, both have an element of nature in the foreground. Fra Angelico took the traditional depiction of Madonna and Child and created several variations of it. As is typical of the genre, the artist presents the Virgin Mary in magnificent splendour. She bears the authority and poise of a reigning monarch.