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Trinity with Saint Mary Magdalen and Saint John the Baptist, Archangel Raphael and Tobias

Sandro Botticelli1491/1494

The Courtauld Institute of Art

The Courtauld Institute of Art
London, United Kingdom

This altarpiece is the one of the most important paintings by Botticelli in the United Kingdom. A vision of the Trinity dominates the work: God the Father holds the cross bearing his crucified son while the dove of the Holy Spirit hovers
between them.

The work has long been linked to the convent of Sant’Elisabetta delle Convertite in Florence, a house of nuns who welcomed repentant prostitutes. This explains the presence of John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence, and Mary Magdalen, patron of the convent. The two smaller figures in the foreground are drawn from the Old Testament: guided by the Archangel Raphael, Tobias finds a fish with healing properties able to cure his father’s blindness. The story alludes to the convent’s mission of protection and rescue.

The painting has recently undergone a major conservation treatment. Old cracks in the panel were repaired and the paint surface was cleaned of its yellowed varnish and overpainting. The painting’s original colour and detail are now fully visible. Research revealed that the composition underwent many changes. In particular, Tobias and Raphael were once further away (and more in proportion), nestled in a landscape of rolling hills that was later painted over. As was common in the Renaissance, Botticelli delegated portions of larger works to assistants who, here, likely painted the angels’ heads. In contrast, the main figures exhibit Botticelli’s characteristic graceful line. The new frame is based on designs found on the back of the panel during the conservation.

Funding for the conservation of this artwork was generously provided through a grant from the Bank of America Art Conservation Project.

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