Artist profile: Botticelli – Madonnas

Every month, I profile an artist who inspires my own art, in several segments.

Botticelli painted over thirty works featuring Mary, mother of Jesus. It was super hard to choose which ones to talk about, so I narrowed it down to six. Click on the links within to go to a higher resolution image.

Madonna with Child and Singing Angels
Madonna with Child and Singing Angels (c. 1477)
This painting is pretty typical Botticelli: visible outlines, twin-like angels (who appear in many of his works), a rather expressionless central female figure, and long, graceful hands and fingers.

Madonna of the Magnificat
Madonna of the Magnificat (1481)(Check out the book.)
Probably the most recognizable of his madonnas nowadays, this painting is pretty! There are lots of shiny bits in everyone’s hair, flowy ribbons, detailed trim on clothes, and rich colors. According to wikipedia – so you know it’s true – the models for the painting were the family of Piero de’ Medici: his wife Lucrezia Turnabouni as Mary, their granddaughter Lucrezia de’ Medici as Jesus (Lorenzo’s daughter, who lived to be 83 and from whom several European royal families were descended), his sons Lorenzo (later The Magnificent; with the ink pot) and Giuliano (who co-ruled with his brother and was assassinated), his illegitimate daughter Maria behind the boys (who Lucrezia T. raised), and their daughters Bianca (left) and Nannina (right) crowning Mary/their mother. If this is true, it’s only one of many many works featuring real people “playing” historical/mythical figures… which I think rocks.

Madonna of the Pomegranate
Madonna of the Pomegranate (1487)
Similarly to the above painting, this one has a pomegranate in it. But I think it looks much more like the Madonna with Child and Singing Angels (#1), even though Mary is wearing the same outfit as in the Magnificat painting. This is a pretty good example of how similar, and yet how different, Botticelli’s Madonnas can be. Jesus seems to have a pretty vacant expression this time, too.

Madonna of the Book
Madonna of the Book (c. 1479)
Besides being a rectangle, this madonna doesn’t have any angels, and it has a noticeable interior. Also, the Byzantine-esque halos are easier to see. But if it was a circle… you’d probably think it was one of the other ones, haha.

Cestello Annunciation
Cestello Annunciation (1489-90)
Isn’t this lovely? This is one of Botticelli’s most dynamic images of Mary. (Let’s face it, it’s hard to make a sitting Mary-and-child dynamic.) All those flowing robes and implied motion – very nice. The outside, visible through the window, is a common aspect of Renaissance painting. Check it out! There’s a bridge and a castle and a big wall, and bushes and trees.

Adoration of the Child
Adoration of the Child (c. 1500)
Botticelli painted many of these, but usually in the midst of a bunch of wise men and contemporary noblemen staring at the poor holy family. This one is nice because it’s not so crowded… yet. See that line of horses through the window? Yeah. They’re gonna be all up in Jesus’s face in a minute. Joseph’s feigning sleep just to get out of greeting everyone.

Next week, we’re taking a trip to Pagan Town for mythical scenes!

Other parts in the Botticelli artist profile series
Pagan stuff



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