Was Sandro Botticelli Accused of Heresy for a Painting he Made of the Assumption of Mary?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to paintings and painters and whether they are true or false.

PAINTING URBAN LEGEND: Sandro Botticelli was accused of heresy for a painting he made of the Assumption of Mary.

Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, better known as Sandro Botticelli, was a famous painter during the Renaissance.

Here is an alleged self-portrait of himself…

Botticelli is most famous for his work, 1486’s The Birth of Venus, which is one of the most well-known paintings in the entire world…

The great biographer of artists of the era, Giorgio Vasari, told the tale of a painting by Botticelli about the Assumption of Mary, mother of Jesus (from 1475-77)…(click to enlarge)…


By the side door of San Piero Maggiore he did a panel for Matteo Palmieri, with a large number of figures representing the Assumption of Our Lady with zones of patriarchs, prophets, apostles, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, doctors, virgins, and the orders of angels, the whole from a design given to him by Matteo, who was a worthy and educated man. He executed this work with the greatest mastery and diligence, introducing the portraits of Matteo and his wife on their knees. But although the great beauty of this work could find no other fault with it, said that Matteo and Sandro were guilty of grave heresy. Whether this be true or not, I cannot say.

The heresy, by the way, is in placing people in certain “zones,” an idea that Palmieri had as a counterpart to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy’s circles of hell, and one that would reasonably cause some consternation over who is in what zone, etc.

In any event, while Vasari could not say if the story was true, we can now say for sure.

Not because we know whether Palmieri and the painter in question were accused of heresy or not, but because we know that Botticelli did not paint the work in question.

Vasari was one of the world’s great historians, but his research methods were a bit lacking in some instances.

To wit, he basically just went on his personal recollections for a lot of the dates used for when paintings were done. And he generally was, as you would expect, a lot more accurate for his contemporaries, like Boticelli, than he was for older artists.

However, he would occasionally just make flat out mistakes, and one of them was here, where he mistook the work of the artist Francesco di Giovanni Botticini for the work of Botticelli.

Botticelli, Botticini – they ARE pretty darn close.

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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One Response to “Was Sandro Botticelli Accused of Heresy for a Painting he Made of the Assumption of Mary?”

  1. ParanoidObsessive on January 27th, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    So now the question becomes, was Botticini accused of heresy for the painting he made of the Assumption of Mary, or was that another mistake on Vasari’s part? 🙂

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