Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Nativity

Workshop of Botticelli (Italian, Florentine, 1444/45–1510)
late 15th century
Italian, Florence
Tempera and gold on wood
30 1/2 x 22 1/2 in. (77.5 x 57.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Robert Lehman Collection, 1975
Accession Number:
Not on view
The Virgin kneels in adoration before the Christ Child, with her blue mantle fastened by a clasp in the form of a cherub, while the golden star on her left shoulder alludes to her title as ‘Stella Maris’ (Star of the Sea), evoking the guiding light she provides. In the middle distance appears the Castel Sant’Angelo, a mausoleum erected on the banks of the Tiber River in Rome for Emperor Hadrian between 134 and 139 A.D., which was converted to a military fortress in the early 5th century and subsequently used as a papal residence. The image of Saint Michael on top of the building refers to the vision of Pope Gregory the Great, which occurred around the year 600, in which the saint’s appearance was understood as symbolizing the end of the plague. At the entrance to the Ponte Sant’Angelo is a relief of Christ and the doubting St. Thomas. The papal crest depicted on the tower resembles that of Innocent VIII, suggesting that the picture may date to the period between 1484 and 1492. The sky is a modern restoration and it likely that the church in the distant background is also a later addition. This work, as well as a group of other paintings of similar subjects attributed to Botticelli’s workshop, depends on paintings by the master himself. The figure of the Madonna and Child may derive from cartoons (full-scale drawings) by his hand. The irregular cutting of the panel suggests that this was originally a circular composition which was subsequently cut down.
Frances, Countess of Eglinton; John Carrick Moore, Corsewall, Wigtonshire, Scotland; Mary Carrick Moore, London; Alfred F. Seligsberg; sale, American Art Association, New York, January 13, 1934, no. 535. Acquired by Robert Lehman in 1934.
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