A VISION OF PARADISE: ‘The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ by Botticini (1475 – 1476)

The Son, adored and nursed by the sweet Maid,

A thousand fold of love for love repaid.

Heaven with transcendent joys her entrance graced,

Next to His throne, her Son, His Mother placed;

And here below, now she’s of heaven possessed,

All generations are to call her blessed.

  • Thomas Ken (1637 – 1711)

The words of this beautiful hymn are brought to life by the painting in consideration. We are ushered into the great mystery that operates at three levels – the earthly, the intermediate and the heavenly.  At the centre of the grassy mountain-top lies an open white berth. The apostles huddle around it in awe and amazement for the berth of the Blessed Virgin Mary contains no longer her body but a meadow of lilies. As we join the apostles to gaze at the beauty of the fragrant flowers we are joined by two individuals, in particular a man and a woman, kneeling on either side of the plateau.

These individuals are no ordinary but the patrons of the painting. In 1474, Matteo Palmieri (1406 – 1475) commissioned ‘The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin’ for his burial chapel in the Church of San Pier Maggiore in Florence where several members of his own family were already buried. Located nearly five hundred metres to the east of Brunelleschi’s Cathedral dome, San Pier Maggiore was one of Florence’s oldest and most prestigious ecclesiastical institutions.

The painting was executed by the Italian painter Francesco Botticini as a tempera on wood. Although originally installed in the Church of San Pier Maggiore (1477), the altar piece was taken down in 1784 when the Church was demolished. In the late 1880’s it was then purchased by the National Gallery where it continues to be housed. 

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