Chicken or the egg?

The scenes above are from a painting known as the Assumption of the Virgin, said to have been completed by Francesco Botticini in 1477. It is now housed at the National Gallery in London.

Art historians recognise Botticini’s style of painting as being influenced by his contemporary Sandro Botticelli. Both painters were from Florence. Compare the twelve disciples with some of the main figures from the Uffizi Adoration painting and it’s not difficult to recognise many similarities.

Perhaps it was this resemblance that prompted Giorgio Vasari to attribute the Assumption painting in to Sandro Botticelli and not Francesco Botticini in his book The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1550).

So which painting came first, Botticini’s Assumption or Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration? If the current attribution of 1475 is accepted for Botticelli’s painting then there is no problem in assuming it was painted before Botticini’s altarpiece (1477) and that Francesco sourced the figures for his twelve disciples from the Uffizi Adoration.

However, if it accepted that Botticelli’s painting does make reference to the assassination of Giuliano de’ Medici in 1478, then (1) the chicken or egg question kicks in again, or at least (2) challenges the completion date for Botticini’s work, or even, perhaps, (3) raises the possibility of Botticelli sourcing Botticini’s painting and not the other way around. A fourth scenario is that Vasari may have been correct in the first place by attributing the Assumption to the hand of Botticell and not Botticini.

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