The Assumption of the Virgin,
Painted by Francesco Botticini (1446 - 1497),
Painted about 1475-6,
Tempera on wood
© National Gallery, London / Wikimedia
Feast of the Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary
Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’
And Mary said:
‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit exults in God my saviour;
because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name,
and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.
He has shown the power of his arm,
he has routed the proud of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy
– according to the promise he made to our ancestors –
of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home.
Reflection on the Painting
Many churches will celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin today rather than tomorrow. Since the sixth century tradition has held that the Virgin Mary’s body did not decay, but that she was raised up body and soul into heaven. The word 'Assumption' comes from the Latin ‘assumptionem’, meaning “a taking or receiving”. Our painting by Francesco Botticini from 1475 beautifully depicts how Our Lady was received into heaven. A dome-shaped gilt-ground vault has opened up in the sky to reveal Christ blessing the Virgin Mary. She kneels before him, her hands together in prayer. She is surrounded by rows of neatly ordered angelic beings, saints and Old Testament figures. The elderly couple beneath the Virgin are Adam and Eve, wearing camel-skin robes. Beneath them sits King David, who was known as a musician, with his lyre. On the left-hand side of the bottom row is Saint George, the warrior saint, dressed in gold armour and a blue mantle. We also see Florence and the Duomo in the distance on the left.
The lower half shows the virgin’s empty tomb, filled with lilies, to the amazement of the apostles who gather around it. The image is based upon a poem by the Florentine apothecary, writer and politician Matteo Palmieri, who is shown kneeling to the left of the tomb, opposite his wife Niccolosa. The poem described the pre-existence of the soul before birth. As this was considered heretical by some at the time, the couples' faces (now restored) were scratched out in protest. His poem was based on writings by St Juvenal. In 451 A.D. it was noted by St. Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon that the apostle, Saint Thomas, was said to have found beautiful roses and lilies where Mary's body once lay.
Today’s feast day is not just about Mary. It is also about ourselves. What Mary has become, we hope to be! The great things that God has done for Mary is a clear indication to the great things that God wants to do for all of us. We believe that God will raise us too, body and soul, to new life after our own death.
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Today’s feast is so encouraging endorsing the equal importance of body and soul. As does the feast of the Transfiguration earlier this month. A visiting priest quoted,” The Transfiguration is the icon of the Incarnation.”
Love the painting and seen it many enjoyable times. Not sure about the Assumption itself I have to say…but nevertheless a great day in which to honour Our Lady.
The concept of the pre-existence of the soul is not part of Christian belief today – heretical? It sounds close to the concept of reincarnation.
What a beautiful painting!