Detail, The birth of Venus, c 1484, Tempera on wood.  Ufizzi Gallery Florence

Detail, Primavera, c 1482, Grease tempera on wood.  Ufizzi Gallery Florence

Mystic Nativity, 1500, The National Gallery, London


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 Revelation.