Madonna of the Pomegranate and Baxandall

7:00 AM

Sandro Botticelli, Madonna of the Pomegranate, 1487

Clearly I can't get enough of Botticelli's work, as I have yet another painting to present.

Despite being one of his later works, Botticelli demonstrates the same exquisiteness seen in his art by paying attention to color and emotion in his subjects of Madonna of the Pomegranate.  

The Virgin Mary holds Jesus in her arms, which Botticelli purposefully illustrates as oversized to symbolize Mary's motherly role in Jesus' birth and death. The six angels gather around the mother and child; their length not only demonstrates proportion, but also creates support for the painting in substitution for the lack of architecture. While they sit under the heavenly light, the subjects' faces provide a solemn environment for the painting, as they morn about the eventual crucifixion and death of Christ.

Although this painting is often referred to as holistically Biblical, the renowned artist does not fail to interject his favoritism for Greek Mythology. Botticelli paints a pomegranate in the child's hand to parallel this work to the myth of Proserpina. Hades imprisons Proserpina in Hell, but Hermes comes to rescue her as ordered by her father Zeus. In order to restore her freedom, Hades forces Proserpina to eat six pomegranate seeds as a representation of fidelity in their marriage. Proserpina must now spend six months with her traitorous husband, and the other six with her mother. Returning in the springtime, her mother decorates the home with welcoming flowers to compose a colorful and euphoric landscape. In the fall when Proserpina returns to Hades, the nature loses its color and joy is lost.

What I'm trying to get at here is that Botticelli applies this symbolism of the pomegranate in the Greek myth to the resurrection of Jesus in the spring and the joy of Christian community that is brought by his rebirth. Moreover, we see that Botticelli's colorful palette and illustration of the flowers on the most left angel are paying attention to Proserpina's story.

As Botticelli strategically crafts this piece of art, we as viewers are forced to look at the composition through Michael Baxandall's period eye. By looking at Botticelli's other works and then returning to this piece, the audience is forced to resist the instinctive "visual perception that ceases to be uniform, from one man to the next" (Baxandall 29). Botticelli's paintings are a prime example of period eye, as works like Primavera, the hilarious Mars and Venus, and Mystic Nativity all share an underlying theme about the painter's societal views on the class system or the time period's cultural impacts of religious suppression.

Here Madonna of the Pomegranate follows Baxandall's theory of symbolism through the color palette, as well as through the Rule of Three. The painting follows what Baxandall would consider a graceful, vibrant, and powerful composition, which speaks to the movement of art in Renaissance society, religious turmoil, and Botticelli's positive outlook on the future. In Baxandall's The Painting & Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy, he concludes by discussing how "the forms and styles of painting respond to social circumstances. It is symmetrical and proper to suggest that the forms and styles of paintings may sharpen our perception of the society" (151). Botticelli proves to follow Baxandall's ideologies in Madonna of the Pomegranate by implying that despite the religious turmoil the Renaissance is facing, there will eventually be change and restoration of peace in Roman society. Moreover, as this painting correlated with the start of Botticelli's fascination with Girolamo Savonarola, the artist may be force-feeding his audience his perspectives on his mentor's demand Christian renewal.

Regardless, I tip my hat to you Botticelli, for once again amazing me with the symbolism of your paintings, of which have most certainly altered my perception of Renaissance and modern day society.


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