This monumental altarpiece exemplifies the equilibrium and harmony for which the Florentine Renaissance is celebrated. It depicts the Assumption—Mary’s bodily and spiritual reunion with Christ in paradise after her death. Pastel colors in the heavenly upper half contrast with the darker and acidic tones at the bottom. The three principal figures form a pyramid, topped by the Virgin. Beneath her, saints John the Baptist and Catherine of Alexandria kneel in similar, yet distinct counterbalancing poses.
Fra Bartolomeo was a Dominican friar who became Florence’s leading painter in 1508, the year in which the triumvirate of Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael departed the city. He enjoyed a successful career producing traditional religious altarpieces that reflect his priestly vocation. The church of Santa Maria in Castello in the Tuscan city of Prato commissioned this painting in 1516, one year before the artist’s death.