Madonna del Libro (1480-1481)

Botticelli, Sandro (c.1445-1510)

Madonna del Libro (Madonna of the Book)
Tempera on panel, 58 x 39.6 cm
Museo Poldi PezzoliMilano

This painting depicts the Virgin and Child reading a book that is only partially visible. The layout and decoration of the sheets have made it possible to formulate the hypothesis that it is a Book of Hours, i.e. one of those devotional manuals intended for the laity which were widespread between the 13th and 16th centuries. Next to the open volume, on which Mary’s hand is delicately resting, other books and some simple objects are visible which help to give the image a familiar tone. The pyramidal composition of the two sacred figures leaves ample space, on the right side of the picture, to a window open onto the landscape, from which a warm, twilight light comes. The light that pervades the Madonna and Child, however, does not seem to have a naturalistic origin: it rather seems to emanate from the figures themselves, spreading into the surrounding space and transforming the simple domestic interior into a mystical setting. Even the fruits that appearing on the left probably have a symbolic meaning: the cherries allude to the blood of Christ, the plums to the sweetness of the affection of the Virgin and Child, the figs to the Salvation or Resurrection of Christ. The three nails of the cross in the hand of the little Jesus and the crown of thorns on his arm have been doubtfully considered later additions and not autographed, but in their direct allusion to a prefiguration of the Passion of Christ they contribute in any case to making the true meaning of the painting. Although this work can be dated to around 1480, when the painter had already reached his full artistic maturity, it still feels the influence of Filippo Lippi, Botticelli‘s first master and author of refined sacred images. In any case, all the elements of Botticelli‘s poetics typical of this particular artistic moment are present in the painting, characterized by a soft and elegant linearity, and by a calm and precious style, still far from the intense pathos that will permeate the late artistic production of the Florentine master. (MPP)