Sandro Botticelli (1445 – May 17, 1510) was an Italian painter of the early renaissance. Here, he paints Jesus’ mother, Mary, teaching the infant Jesus to read. Mary is teaching him from a Book of Hours. This is a Christian devotional book used to pray the canonical hours and was a popular illustrated manuscript in medieval times. I think this painting is exceptionally moving. It speaks of motherhood, learning, holiness and purity.

Symbolizing the Passion of Christ, the Christ Child is holding the three nails of the cross, and the crown of thorns. These are probably later additions, added to make the message more explicit. This is the conventional representation in the Christian iconography. In addition, the fruit in the bowl has an emblematic meaning. The cherries represent the blood of Christ or are an allusion to Paradise, plums indicate the tenderness between Mary and the Child, and the figs are characteristic of the Resurrection. Wikipedia

Mary looks down on her writing while the infant Jesus, distracted, clings to His mother, looking up at her adoringly. She is clothed her in her halo, clothed in what appears to be light or transparent silk. Mary is clothed in blue, which, historically, was a most expensive dye. Stones such as lapiz lazuli and sapphire, which were expensive, were used by Renaissance artists to depict the Virgin Mary. Blue and purple are expensive dyes and therefore used to show honour and reverence. This painting is replete with reverence and awe.

Supposedly inspired by Filippo Lippi’s Madonna and Child with an Angel, which is in the Hospital of the Innocents in Florence, this piece is one of extraordinary beauty. I like in particular the look Jesus is giving to his mother. Meeting some of Charlotte’s married friends recently, who have had kids recently, I understand the look which Botticelli has captured here. That love, respect and awe is something which all children have for their mother. In a similar way, this is the way that Catholics and many Christians look on Mary. This is the mother of our Lord who gave life to Him who granted us salvation. We ought to look up at her thus, and follow her example.

Another breathtaking masterpiece by the Renaissance master.