This altar panel, one of Botticelli’s most carefully painted and best-preserved paintings, was commissioned by the Florentine merchant Giovanni d’Agnolo de’Bardi for his burial chapel in S. Spirito. The original frame by Giuliano da Sangallo was probably lost when the picture, which stayed in the Bardi family until 1825, was replaced by a more modern painting only a hundred years after its installation. A copy of a similar period frame in S. Spirito was created for this work in 1978. The subject matter, the enthroned Madonna with saints standing at her side, originates with Fra Angelico, and it was the theme of several other altar paintings (done at the same time or slightly earlier) in S. Spirito. Here the saints are the two St. Johns, with John the Baptist in the place of honour as patron saint. Botticelli moves away from the other works mentioned by reducing the architectural constructs and making the baldacchino behind Mary entirely of palm fronds. Foliage niches allude to the earlier, tripartite retable type. The composition is dominated by the over-lavish plant decoration, even though the countless texts (mainly from Jesus Sirach), make it clear that it has a very specific iconographical purpose. This tension between precise observation of nature and an elaborate concept is well served by elements that play down the distance from the viewer: the eyes of John the Baptist and the Christ Child, the placing of the saints on the step leading into the image or the small crucifix on the altar, which we imagine to be beneath the painting.


  • Title: Madonna with Saints
  • Creator: Sandro Botticelli
  • Date Created: 1485
  • Physical Dimensions: w180.0 x h185.0 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • External Link: Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Medium: Oil on poplar wood
  • Style: Italian
  • Copyright Text: Text: © http://www.prestel.com, Prestel Verlag / Matthias Weniger // Photo: © http://www.bpk-images.de, b p k - Photo Agency / Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Collection: Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Artist information: Sandro Botticelli was an Italian painter of the Florentine school during the early Renaissance. He was initially trained as a goldsmith by his brother Antonio and was apprenticed to Fra Filippo Lippi from 1462 onwards. Between 1465 and 1470 he created several Madonnas which show the influences of his master. Afterwards he opened his own workshop. Along with several other artists he was called to Rome by Pope Sixtus IV to decorate the newly built Sistine Chapel with murals. He mainly executed altar-pieces and religious paintings as well as some which dealt with Greek mythology and allegory. For example, he also created drawings for Dante's Divine Comedy. His best known masterpieces are considered to be 'Primavera' (ca. 1482) and 'The Birth of Venus' (ca. 1485). When Fra Savonarola established his theocracy in Florence after the expulsion of the Medici in 1494, Botticelli dedicated himself to religious topics.
  • Artist Place of Death: Florence, Italy
  • Artist Place of Birth: Florence, Italy
  • Artist Gender: male
  • Artist Dates: 1445/1510-05-17

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