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The infant Christ reaches up towards the Virgin Mary, oblivious of his visitors – the Three Kings on the left and the shepherds on the right. The golden dome of heaven has opened up and is circled by 12 angels holding olive branches entwined with scrolls and hung with crowns. In the foreground, three pairs of angels and men embrace; among their feet demons scuttle for shelter in the underworld through cracks in the rocks.

The Greek inscription mentions ‘the troubles of Italy’, a reference to the invasion of the French, who took Naples in 1494 and Milan in 1499, and to the civil strife in Florence itself. Botticelli associated these events with the turmoil mentioned in the biblical Book of Revelation, which talks about the end of the world and Christ’s second coming. The period of upheaval it described would end upon Christ’s return, when the devil would be buried, as in this picture.

Details

  • Title: Mystic Nativity
  • Creator: Sandro Botticelli
  • Date Created: 1500
  • Physical Dimensions: 108.6 x 74.9 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • School: Italian
  • More Info: Explore the National Gallery’s paintings online
  • Inventory number: NG1034
  • Artist Dates: about 1445 - 1510
  • Artist Biography: At the height of his fame, the Florentine painter and draughtsman Sandro Botticelli was one of the most esteemed artists in Italy. His graceful pictures of the Madonna and Child, his altarpieces and his life-size mythological paintings, such as 'Venus and Mars', were immensely popular in his lifetime. The son of a tanner, he was born Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, but he was given the nickname 'Botticelli' (derived from the word 'botticello' meaning 'small wine cask'). Smart beyond his years, the young Botticelli became easily bored at school. He was known for his sharp wit and his love of practical jokes, and he quickly earned a reputation as a restless, hyperactive and impatient child. Fortunately, his precocious talent was recognised and he was withdrawn from school and sent to work as an apprentice. It is thought that Botticelli first trained with Maso Finiguerra, a goldsmith, before entering the studio of the artist Fra Filippo Lippi. He began his career painting frescoes for Florentine churches and cathedrals, and worked with the painter and engraver Antonio del Pollaiuolo. By 1470, he had his own workshop.
  • Acquisition Credit: Bought, 1878

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