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 Botticelli, Sandro (Italian painter and draftsman, born 1444 or 1445, died 1510) and studio, The Descent of the Holy Ghost

Core Record

Title The Descent of the Holy Ghost
Collection Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Artist Botticelli, Sandro (Italian painter and draftsman, born 1444 or 1445, died 1510) and studio
Date Earliest about 1495
Date Latest 1505
Description This scene depicts Pentecost, the birth of the Christian Church when the Apostles began to spread the Gospel to other peoples. After Christ's ascension into Heaven, the Apostles gathered together with the Virgin Mary. The Holy Spirit descended to them, granting them the ability to speak in many languages, so better to spread the word of Christ.
Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them (Acts 2)
A nineteenth century addition of a dove, traditionally used to signify the Holy Spirit, was removed from the space above the Virgin. Botticelli's version is in keeping with the Bible, which speaks of 'tongues of fire', here represented as golden rays emanating from above and ending in fire on the heads of each Apostle.
Current Accession Number 1959P31
Former Accession Number P.31´59
Subject religion (Pentecost:)
Measurements 207.0 x 229.8 cm cm (estimate)
Material oil on panel
Acquisition Details Purchased from Julius F. Weitzner with the aid of the National Art-Collections Fund 1959.
Provenance Michele and Luigi Gamberini; Abbé Hyères; Sir Francis Cook; Sir Herbert Cook; The Trustees of the Cook Collection.
Publications Ulmann, H., Sandro Botticelli, 1893, p. 146, 152; Berenson, B., Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, 1932; Salvini, R., Tutta la Pittura del Botticelli, 1958, p. 77; Cannon-Brookes, P., 'Botticelli's Pentecost: An Interpretation', Apollo, vol. 87, 1968, pp. 274-8; Lightbown, D., Sandro Botticelli, 1978, pp. 150-151; Mandel, G., l'Opera Completa di Botticelli, p. 106; Mesuil, J., Botticelli, 1938, pp. 173-4; Olson, R. J. M., Studies in the Later Works of Sandro Botticelli (thesis), Princeton University, 1975, pp. 436 - 442; Foreign Paintings in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, A Summary Catalogue, 1983, no. 13, ill.
Notes Opinion attributes the design of the composition to Botticelli and most, if not all, of the execution to assistants. This was quite normal for a painting of this time; the artist would 'design' the painting and paint the most important areas such as the faces of the main figures, and workshop assistants would do the rest. The painting has suffered much damage and over-painting. In the nineteenth century, a dove (now removed) was added over the head of the Virgin Mary. The panel has been substantially trimmed at the bottom and, possibly also at the top. It original scale would identify it as an altarpiece for an unknown church.
Rights Owner Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Author Dr Patricia Smyth



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