Mariotto Albertinelli was a pupil of Cosimo Rosselli and then worked in a studio in collaboration with the artist who under the influence of Savonarola became Fra Bartolommeo. However, after a brief falling out over Savonarola, they continued in collaboration into the 1500s. This particular work was commisioned by the Congregation dei Preti, by Orsanmichele but not for their own church but for an altar for the oratory of the Confraternity of the Visitation. It is dated 1503. Its a remarkable subject to choose for an altarpiece, where normally some more visible image of Christ is found in view of the eucharistic function, though certainly the Visitation expresses the theme of the Incarnation. The confraternity had links with Savonarola and it may be the image is intended to convey the theme of simplicity which featured in Savonarola’s preaching
The arcade functions as a frame and a foil and offers some continuity with the real architecture of the setting, just as the arch of the frame echoes that in the painting. However, it also functions as a fictional setting or stage into which living action and Gospel drama has entered, a symbol of the old creation being transformed by the new.
Possibly, Albertinelli relied on Fra Bartolommeo for the monumental design, though it is distinct from the latter’s normal solid pyramidal layout and may be his own. The rounded forms and saturated colour are both characteristic of Albertinelli at this time. Here, there is a pyramid created, but it is a hollow one at the centre of the painting between the figures, to which the eye is drawn, the space between the wombs of the two women. Only their hands joined in friendship are found at this central point, a space full of the Spirit, which unites them and the two infants in their wombs.