Together with Cosmè Tura and Ercole de’Roberti (also represented in this Collection), Francesco del Cossa was the most important artist in Ferrara and Bologna in the second half of the 15th century. Cossa was familiar with the work of Piero della Francesca, Donatello and Mantegna, as is evident in his style. He died young in Bologna in an outbreak of the plague.
This pair of panels was published in a brief article by August L.Mayer published The Burlington Magazine in 1930 in which the author attributed them to Cossa and published important information on their provenance. We thus know that both were in the collection of Lord Wemyss at Gosford House, Scotland and that in 1930 they were owned by the Heinemann gallery in Munich. Three years later Lionello Venturi wrote about them again, by which time they were in the United States, while in 1934 Roberto Longhi mentioned them as being in the Fleishmann residence in New York. In 1935 they entered the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, and have been included in its catalogues since 1937.
Longhi related both images to the altarpiece in the Franciscan church of the convent of the Osservanza in Bologna. The central panel of this altarpiece, an Annunciation, as well as the predella with a Nativity, are now in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. According to Longhi’s proposed reconstruction, the present panels would have been at either end of the predella. In addition to their style, other actors suggesting that these panels may have formed part of that predella are the architectural elements that surround the two saints,which would interact with the architecture in the Annunciation scene, as well as the choice of Saint Clare, who would be appropriate for a Franciscan altarpiece. The Osservanza altarpiece has been dated to around 1472, the date also proposed for these two panels. The altarpiece has been dated close to two well-documented works by the artist in Bologna: his work for the church of Santa Maria del Baraccano in 1472, and the triptych commissioned in 1473 by Floriano Griffoni for a chapel in the church San Petronio.
The figure of Saint Clare of Assisi, founder of the Order of Poor Clares was incorrectly identified as Saint Monica in earlier catalogues of the Collection. She is, however, identifiable by her Franciscan habit, book and stem of flowers. Saint Catherine of Alexandria is recognisable by her martyr’s palm and fragment of spiked wheel. In the manner of sculptures, the two figures are set into stone niches on a base with a classical frieze. Mayer drew attention to the way in which the folds of Saint’s Catherine tunic are constructed as well as the type of halos and the way they relate to the heads, all features highly typical of the style of Francesco del Cossa.