This latest exhibition at the National Gallery is focused around three years worth of research on Francesco Botticini’s monumental altarpiece of the Assumption of the Virgin which was completed in about 1477 for the funerary chapel of Matteo Palmieri.

Visions of Paradise explores the life of Matteo Palmieri who held high positions in government, wrote poems as well as running a successful apothecary business and commissioned the Assumption of the Virgin to be made by Botticini.

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Designed with the help of Palmieri himself, the altarpiece is right at the heart of the display that features around thirty pieces of work that helps visitors to explore and understand Palmieri’s life and career in detail.

All of the pieces are highly detailed and vibrant in colour and there is a very spiritual feeling about the exhibition as a whole – not just because of the religious pieces on display, but also down to the atmosphere and the impressiveness of the size and scale of the pieces included in the exhibition that guarantees the visitor’s respect.

The quality of the works in this exhibition is awe-inspiring, yet despite this it is not overwhelming if you are not familiar with either Palmieri or Botticini and is a good introduction to the Assumption of the Virgin. 

But it does feel as though there is something cold and clinical about the exhibition that means it can be hard to warm or even care about in places which leaves you questioning –  why is this exhibition taking place now? It doesn’t really explain the importance of this piece and how it fitted in with other works made during its time  so unless you know a lot about the painting in the first place you might struggle slightly.

That isn’t to say that is down to lack of research, but it seems more down to the assumption that people visiting the exhibition will have a good knowledge of the altarpiece already.

It is an interesting concept to base an exhibition on one particular piece of work and with just a little more focus on the painting itself then it would have worked even better. But it does bring several other pieces that deserve to be seen more often to the attention of the visitors.

Visions of Paradise: Botticini’s Palmieri Altarpiece is open to the public from today and will be on display until the 14th February 2016. 

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