These three panels are fragments of a once-larger ensemble, which has been named The Barnabas Altarpiece because of the inscriptions on its lower border alluding to an unidentified Bishop Barnabas. Originally, the altarpiece was likely constructed with at least three enframed tiers of panels. The crowned, enthroned Virgin nursing the infant Christ is represented as Queen of Heaven, a symbol of the Church. Saints Peter and Paul, protectors of the Church, stand to the left and right, respectively.
Recent examination of the panels during conservation has confirmed a medieval date. The background, originally an indigo layer of pigment, had faded and was repainted at an early (possibly Renaissance) date, and the outlines of the figures were strengthened. Surviving altarpieces from the Gothic era are very rare, and there has been little scholarly consensus regarding this work’s place of origin. The wooden support, incorrectly identified in the past as willow, is linden (basswood), which was used primarily in southern Europe and not in England or Scandinavia. Moreover, the use of gypsum as a preparation ground also rules out most of the northern countries. These investigations thus support a growing consensus that the painting originates from southwestern France or northern Spain.