Never before published, this painting is an unusual depiction of the Virgin and Christ Child. Instead of sitting on a throne, she stands, staring to the left and holding the nude Child high up against her chest. The design of the Virgin and Child recalls the figures of the Virgin and Child in the tondo in the Galleria Borghese, Rome, the largest tondo surviving from the 15th century. Like the Virgin in the Borghese tondo, the Virgin in the present picture wears a red dress and a dark blue mantle with a pale blue plaid-like lining. The motif of the standing Virgin recurs in a similar picture in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montreal. The Christ Child in the present picture looks directly at the viewer, raises his right hand in benediction, and holds in his left the crown of thorns and the three nails with which he will be hammered to the cross. These symbols of the Passion of Christ can also be seen in other paintings by Botticelli, such as his Lamentation in the Museo Poldi-Pezzoli, Milan, as well as in late works by Filippino Lippi and Jacopo del Sellaio. The instruments of the passion may reflect the emotional power of Savonarola's moral crusade to purify decadent Florentines. An extreme example of this iconography occurs in a painting of the Man of Sorrows introduced in the year 2009 at the Botticelli exhibition at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt. Here Christ's head is surrounded by a halo of ten small angels bearing the instruments of the passion.
The iconography corresponds with the date suggested by the picture's style. In the 1480s Botticelli increasingly simplified the forms in his pictures, leading to almost abstract designs. This development can be seen in the broad conception of paintings like the Wemyss Adoration of the Christ Child now in the National Gallery of Scotland, or the frescoes from the Villa Lemmi, now in the Louvre. The large inflated drapery in the latter has been firmly dated to about 1490 by Pat Simons's identification of the portraits in the frescoes of Giovanni Tornabuoni and his second wife, Ginevra Gianfigliazzi. The broad conception of the drapery in the present picture must date from the same time.
As a cursory glance can tell, areas of the painting have suffered. The background is somewhat abraded and the Christ Child's genitalia have been repainted, but the rest of the flesh of the Christ Child and the face of the Virgin are in fine condition. In a past restoration campaign the haloes were heavily gilded: originally they were either dots or rays of shell-gold floating in a pale blue firmament, not solid disks. The background appears to have suffered most. The wet gesso was incised for some sort of arch behind the Virgin, and x-rays indicate the remains of foliage in the upper left-hand corner of the background. This foliage probably included pink roses like the blossoms on either side of the Virgin in Botticelli's Piacenza tondo in the Museo Civico di Palazzo Farnese.
This painting was recognized as an autograph Botticelli by Mina Gregori, (written communication 22 December 1994) and several scholars have since endorsed her attribution.
11 December 2013