Skip to main content
Past exhibition

4 November 2015 – 28 March 2016

Admission free
Location: Sunley Room

Francesco Botticini’s Assumption of the Virgin has bewildered scholars for centuries. ‘Visions of Paradise: Botticini’s Palmieri Altarpiece’ showcases new research on this monumental painting, clarifying long-perpetuated misunderstandings about its authorship, date, original location, and iconography.

The altarpiece, installed in the church of San Pier Maggiore in Florence in 1477, was commissioned by Matteo Palmieri (1406–1475) before his death, and he is portrayed kneeling at the lower left of the painting together with his wife, Niccolosa de’ Serragli, at the right.

This free exhibition explores the fascinating life of Palmieri, a true Renaissance man 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.

Palmieri reportedly advised Botticini on the design of this painting, which incorporates a panoramic landscape of Florence in the lower register and an extraordinary dome of Heaven, populated with saints and angels, in the upper.

‘Visions of Paradise’ provides the rare opportunity to view the painting up close, and it will be shown alongside related paintings, drawings, prints, manuscripts, ceramics, and sculpture for the first time.

Crucially, the exhibition addresses centuries of debate surrounding the painting’s misattribution to Sandro Botticelli (a contemporary of Botticini’s), its relationship to Palmieri’s poem ‘Città di Vita’ (City of Life) based on Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’, and its condemnation for heresy.  

To better understand the original function and context of the altarpiece, the exhibition includes a short documentary film about San Pier Maggiore – a church largely destroyed in the 18th century – using surviving archival, archaeological, and visual material. The film, made in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, can also be viewed here.

Generously supported by Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, Moretti Fine Art Ltd, The Rothschild Foundation, The Vaseppi Trust, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and several other donors