Botticelli ca. 1445 – 1510

The Birth of Christ

tempera on canvas (109 × 75 cm) — 1500 Museum The National Gallery, London

Botticelli biography

This work is linked to Luke 2:7

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This work is also known as the Mystical Nativity. Mary, the ox and the ass are watching over the infant while Joseph is sleeping. The three men kneeling to the left of the stable are the Magi; they can be recognized by their long gowns. Kneeling to the right are the shepherds, wearing cheaper and so shorter outfits.

All the angels carry olive branches and the men are crowned with olive: a symbol of peace. The heavens over the stable have opened, allowing the golden light of paradise to shine down on the scene. The angels and the men are obviously celebrating the birth of the newborn king. In the corners in the foreground demons can be seen fleeing from all the joy into the underworld.

Many of the angels carry banners with texts like 'Gloria in excelsis deo' [Glory to God in Heaven] or texts that praise Mary - all in Latin.

Botticelli's mysticism is opposed to the naturalism that many other painters were practicing at the time. The word 'mysticism' refers to the subject being idealized and being depicted prettier than realistically possible.

The inscription at the top is in Greek and reads, in English: "I, Alessandro made this picture at the conclusion of the year 1500 in the troubles of Italy in the half time after the time according to the 11th chapter of Saint John in the second woe of the Apocalypse during the loosing of the devil for three and a half years then he will be chained in the 12th chapter and we shall see [...] as in this picture." The text refers to the book of the Revelation of St. John. This means that Botticelli's painting not only depicts the birth, but may also be seen as a vision of Jesus's Second Coming, heralding the end of the world.

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