Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review – Visions of Paradise: Botticini’s Palmieri Altarpiece at the National Gallery from 4th Nov 2015 to 14th Feb 2016

Exhibition Review – Visions of Paradise: Botticini’s Palmieri Altarpiece at the National Gallery from 4th Nov 2015 to 14th Feb 2016



The National Gallery presents a free exhibition entitled  Visions of Paradise: Botticini’s Palmieri Altarpiece which is centered around Francesco Botticini’s Assumption of the Virgin painting that has been the subject of debate for centuries. The exhibition presents new research on this monumental painting, clarifying long-perpetuated misunderstandings about its authorship, date, original location, and iconography. The exhibition will feature around 30 works, including paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, manuscripts and a bronze medal from institutions including: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the National  museum Stockholm, the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, The Credito Bergamasco, Bergamo and The British Museum, The British Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.


The altarpiece installed in the church of San Pier Maggiore in Florence in 1477, was commissioned by Matteo Palmieri (1406–1475) before his death. The exhibition explores the interesting life of Palmieri who trained in his native Florence as an apothecary, studied philosophy and rhetoric with the leading humanist scholars of the period, wrote histories, biographies and poetry, held top positions in the Florentine government, and developed close friendships with the Medici rulers of Florence.


A section of the exhibition includes some of Palmieri’s books including the poem ‘Città di Vita’ (City of Life) based on Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ which led to calls of  heresy which led to Francesco Botticini’s Assumption of the Virgin painting being defaced and covered up for a period in the church of San Pier Maggiore.

Botticini’s painting was falsely attributed to the more famous Sandro Botticelli (a contemporary of Botticini’s) for centuries, even the famous Vasari’s Life of the Artists book made the same error. It was this false attribution that obscured Botticini and Matteo Palmieri’s roles in the creation of the painting, there is evidence that there were a series of collaborations between Palmieri and Botticini. It has been suggested that Palmieri  advised the painter on the design of the large panel which incorporates a panoramic landscape of Florence and its surroundings in the lower register and images of Heaven populated with saints and angels in the upper.


Other paintings in the exhibition indicate that Botticini was part of a artistic network of painters working in Florence in the 1470s including  Botticelli, Verrocchio and the Pollaiuolo brothers.


The painting was in the San Pier Maggiore church in Florence until the 18th century when the church was demolished, remarkably an even older altar piece from the same church not only survives but is included in the exhibition.  The monumental polyptych by Jacopo di Cione and his workshop, made for the high altar of San Pier Maggiore around 1370 includes a painted representation of the church and research has shown it was for a period in the same chapel as the Botticini.


Although these two remarkable pieces of Renaissance art were bought by the National Gallery in the 19th century, they have never been shown in their full glory.  The Assumption of the Virgin painting has been hung several metres off the ground and the Jacopo’s altarpiece has been reconstructed from its many fragments that have been hung separately in the Sainsbury Wing.

To better understand the original function and contexts of both works, the show will includes a short film that creates a  digital reconstruction of the church of San Pier Maggiore, a building though largely destroyed in the eighteenth century still has left a few traces of its splendour, which is explored using surviving archival, archaeological and visual material.


This important exhibition provides an opportunity to look in close detail, one of the most talked about paintings from the period. The painting transports you into the world of Renaissance Florence both in its panoramic landscape but also it ‘mindset’. Palmieri’s poem influenced by Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ creates a vision of Heaven and Earth which Botticini has recreated in paint. The fact that these ideas are later deemed heretical by several theologians and scholars for its provocative ideas about the origins of the human soul reminds us that the intellectual free thinking of the Renaissance period did have its limits.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you  would like more information, visit the National Gallery website here

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