Madonna of the Book

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Madonna of the Book
Sandro Botticelli - The Virgin and Child (The Madonna of the Book) - Google Art Project.jpg
Artist Sandro Botticelli
Year c. 1480
Type Tempera on panel
Dimensions 58 cm × 39.5 cm (23 in × 15.6 in)
Location Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan

The Madonna of the Book, or the Madonna del Libro, is a small painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli, and is preserved in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum in Milan. The painting is executed in tempera on wood. It dates from 1480 to 1483.[1][2]


The Madonna of the Book is a soft and elegant work, in which Mary and the Child are seated by a window in the corner of a room. She has the (so called) Book of Hours, the Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis, which is a book of prayers for laymen used between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. The infant is gazing at his mother whilst she is absorbed in reading the book. The hands of both mother and son follow each other. Their right hands are open as in a blessing gesture, and their left hands are closed.[1]

Symbolical of the Passion of Christ, the Christ Child is holding the three nails of the cross[A] and the crown of thorns. This is the conventional representation in the Christian iconography. In addition, the fruit on the plate has an emblematical meaning, with the cherry representing either the blood of Christ or an allusion to Paradise, the plum indicating the tenderness between Mary and the Child, and the fig characteristic of the Resurrection.[1]

Botticelli interprets the scene with a sensitivity and love for the small detail: the set of boxes and the bowl of lush fruits are depicted as a still life; the pages of the book, the garments, the transparent veils—they all have an amazing tactile quality.[5] It is a composition with a good balance and refinement. Botticelli painted with subtle differences in colour variations and he was able to put colours together so that they compliment each other admirably. Botticelli's painting is adorned with gold filigree decorating the clothes and objects. The use of gold face painting was the result of the contractual agreement he had made with his customer on his price for the painting.[4][5][B] The identity of his patron is unknown.[2]

The interrelationship of light, shapes and voids confers an ethereal quality to the work.[C] Indeed, the painting stands as recently rediscovered, as a recent restoration revealed the luminescent sky and bright morning aura, which had been obscured by layers of centuries-old varnish.[6][7]

One is reminded of other Marian images made prior to the year 1470. Botticelli might have been influenced by Filippo Lippi's Madonna and Child with an Angel from the Hospital of Innocents in Florence.[1] It has a rectangular shape, which is rare in the later production of Botticelli in the 1470s.

In this painting, as in other large series of Botticelli's, the Madonna is portrayed as being serious, thoughtful and concentrated. A more intellectual relationship between mother and son, rather than a loving one, so unlike the works painted by Raphael Sanzio, in which often she looks at her child smiling.[1]

Botticelli and this painting were the subject of renewed interest in the 19th Century. In Italy this was because of the painting’s “extraordinary beauty” and it was envisualized as a source of Italian national identity—“Risorgimento”—with which Italians could relate.[8] Among Botticelli's admirers was Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli, whose private collection and apartment became a museum benefiting the public.[8] According to Dr Annalisa Zanni, the Poldi Pezzoli Museum director, she recently discovered more about Botticelli's technique and use of materials, as exemplified in the Madonna of the Book. For example, the topmost layer in its blue components consists of lapis lazuli, so very precious and expensive an “ingredient, indicating it was commissioned by a highly prestigious patron.”[6][7][8]

It is housed in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan, Italy.[1][3] A larger, more detailed copied version is displayed at the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas, Texas.[9][10][11]



  1. ^ The nails are said to be an unknown artist's addition to the painting after it was originally completed. One writer claims the intent was to make literal the implicit message of the work.[3][4]
  2. ^ "Known also as the Madonna of the Book, this painting represents the Virgin and Child in a domestic setting, intent on reading a volume, perhaps a Book of Hours. A window is open on the landscape at twilight, but the diffused light which transforms the space into a mystical setting seems to emanate from the figures themselves. The various fruits in the bowl have a symbolic meaning: cherries allude to Christ's blood; plums to the maternal and child love; figs to Salvation or the Resurrection. The nails and the crown of thorns (perhaps not original) evoke the Passion of Christ.[1] Dating from about 1480, the painting shows all the elements of the Botticelli’s mature poetic: a delicate, elegant linearity, a style which is still far from the intense pathos of his late work."[4]
  3. ^ "The glimmer which pervades them seems to be unleashed by these figures and it spreads throughout the surrounding spaces. Besides the light, even the pyramid-like layout of the two sacred figures feeds the perception of an absolutely perfect moment."[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Madonna of the Book". Retrieved October 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Malaguzzi, Silvia; Botticelli, Sandro (2004). Botticelli. Ediz. Inglese (Print). Florence: Giunti. p. 40. ISBN 8809036778. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c "Madonna with Child (Madonna of the book)/ Casa Museo Poldi Pezzoli". Milan is Tourism. Milano City. 2010. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c "The Virgin and Child (The Madonna of the Book)1480". Google Cultural Institute. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  5. ^ a b Backus, Emily (30 November 2011). "Botticelli exhibit unveils surprises for art scholars: Show at Milan's Poldi Pezzoli museum gathers eight key works". La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno (Milan). Retrieved 4 November 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Onuchina, Maria (1 April 2011). "Eight masterpieces by Botticelli in Milan". ARTinvestment.RU. Retrieved 4 November 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c "New light on Botticelli's beauty: Discoveries at the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, Milan". University of Sidney. 13 March 2012. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  8. ^ "Galleries and Exhibitions". Museum of Biblical Art. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  9. ^ Ashe, Agnes (September 19, 2013). "The Sincerest Form of Flattery and Botticelli’s ‘Madonna of the Book’". Agnes Ashe. Retrieved 4 November 2014. 
  10. ^ Ashe, Agnes (September 19, 2013). "Madonna of the Book – School of Botticelli, Museum of Biblical Art, Dallas, Texas. A copy.". The Sincerest Form of Flattery and Botticelli’s ‘Madonna of the Book’. Agnes Ashe. Retrieved 5 November 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Cox, Richard (May 12, 1985). The Botticelli Madonna: A Novel (Soft cover) (Third Printing ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0345324773. ISBN 978-0345324771. 

External links[edit]