This is the only surviving work to be signed by
Botticelli, and it has been suggested that he painted it for
his own private devotions or for someone very close to him.
It is not a traditional painting of the events of the
nativity, that is the birth and the adoration of the
shepherds or wise men, rather it draws frmom the prophesies
in the Revelation of Saint John.
It is an unrealistic picture, highlighted by the use of
Latin and Greek text together, and the use of medieval art
conventions like the discrepencies in scale - for instance
Mary is painted so large that were she to be standing she
would not fit beneath the roof of the manger.
The angels carry olive branches and the shepherds and
magi are likewise carrying or adorned with olives or olive
branches, the symbol of peace. The scrolls which wind
themselves around the branches in the forground, combined
with some of those held by the angels at the top of the
painting read "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth
peace, goodwill toward men" (Luke 2:14). As the angels
embrace the men on the eath, little devils dive into holes
in the ground (see bottom right).
The scrolls of the angels which point towards the crib
read "Mother of God", "Bride of God", "Sole Queen of the
World" and are universally celebratory of Mary.
The inscription at the top of the painting is in Greek
and has been translated as "I Sandro 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 teh devil for three and a half years then he will
be chained in the 12th chapter and we shall see [him burying
himself] as in this picture". The 'half time after the time'
has generally been understood to be a year and a half
earlier when the French invaded Italy but may also mean a
half millennium after a millennium (1500) which to people at
the time seemed to herald the Second Coming prophesied in