Analysis: Botticelli’s “Mystical Nativity”

Mystical Nativity (1500-1501) is the fifth painting by Alessandro (Sandro) Botticelli that PluribusOne™ has examined. Adoration of the Magi (1476) venerated the Medici family. La Primavera (1482) heralded the imminent coming of the New World of promise—America. Venus and Mars (1483) commemorated a clandestine political poisoning. Although produced after La Primavera, The Birth of Venus (1485) imagery was the prequel to La Primavera’s proclamation. How do we see Mystical Nativity, Sandro’s only signed work, fitting into this flow of occult paintings? 

Historians recognize that Mystical Nativity contains much symbolism. They consider its message “mysterious” but an expression of devotion to the Church nonetheless. PluribusOne™ has concluded, conversely, that the painting is Hermetic and expresses subtle condemnation of the Church and the devoutly Catholic Spanish royals under whose authority even Christopher Columbus had been mistreated in 1500 and returned to Spain in irons. Savonarola, the fanatical friar, preaching on the Book of Revelation and orchestrating bonfires of the vanities, including the burning of countless sacrilegious artworks, had intimidated Botticelli and attacked Renaissance leader Lorenzo dé Medici. 

The Medici family, expelled from Florence in 1494, had yet to return to power by 1500, and the spirit of Inquisition remained unquenched, yet Botticelli bounced back with this occult painting having mannerist and pyramidal design qualities associated with the High Renaissance. Botticelli was never aligned with Savonarola’s anti-Renaissance agenda. 

The vague legend at the top of Mystical Nativity has been translated to read: “This picture, at the end of the year 1500, in the troubles of Italy, I Alessandro, in the half-time after the time, painted, according to the eleventh of Saint John, in the second woe of the Apocalypse, during the release of the devil for three-and-a-half years; then he shall be bound in the twelfth and we shall see as in this picture.” It is clear that Sandro believed he was experiencing the Tribulation. The Italian Renaissance had been irreparably damaged. 

As a result of all these troubling events in Europe, Botticelli was impelled to consider the Second Coming imminent. Yet it is interesting to see that the scene he constructed is not a match to imagery described in chapters eleven and twelve of the Book of Revelation. And, in particular, we are drawn to Botticelli’s statement: “…we shall see as in this picture.” What is it that “we” shall see? What did Botticelli portray in this painting named Mystical Nativity by someone else? And why was it inaccessible for three centuries? 

Some historians have noted that the scene does not seem to depict the events of those chapters of Revelation, but they wrongly conclude that Botticelli’s references are incorrect. What Botticelli was envisioning is a portrait of humanity’s emergence into New Earth, rejoicing after having come through the manger-tomb star-gate (the Way made by Jesus) at the far end of which Old Earth is visible, as a memory. Above, we see a New Heavens from which twelve Zodiacal angels are losing their crowns, symbolizing humanity’s release from cyclic forces of Nature, while the three humanist Graces prevail. 

Botticelli’s earlier works, La Primavera and Birth of Venus, envisioned a New World in America where people would be free from the repressive forces of Europe’s Roman Catholic Empire—a new political and economic order. Mystical Nativity, which could be renamed Kingdom Come, stepped beyond that to embrace full fruition of the ancient prophecies and promise of Biblical voices. It is not surprising that the painting of New Earth surfaced only after the American Revolution, in the end-time of the Inquisition.

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4 Responses to “Analysis: Botticelli’s “Mystical Nativity””

  1. Sandi Says:

    At the end of the day, aren’t you, in effect, acknowledging that Botticelli’s bible reference really was incorrect?

  2. PluribusOne™ Says:

    No. The legend was not intended to describe the overall painting but to serve as prologue for the image beneath it. The painting is meant to be read from top to bottom. The spelled-out events of Revelation 11 and 12 were envisioned as coming first, then the change in angelic influences and affirmation of the humanist Graces, then emergence of a remnant into New Earth, then the rejoicing of couples of saved people. The painting’s segments, uppermost to lowermost, represent passage of time.

    The legend represents God’s word, seen as preceding everything. Sandro is serving as a kind of second-tier prophet whose vision of the near future is shared via paint.

    What is loosed in heaven is loosed on earth—“…kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (see Matthew 16 and The Lord’s Prayer). The entirety of the schematic of figures displays the Hermetic above-below quality: the angels and three graces represent heavenly activity, whereas the figures shown in the birth-rebirth Nativity scene and among the saved humans represent activities on the earthly plane.

  3. Sandi Says:

    What else makes this an “occult artwork?”

  4. PluribusOne™ Says:

    In addition to the astrological elements, there are its numerological qualities, including a dominant “Law of Three” theme: three groups of angels above, the three graces, three groups in the Nativity scene, and three couples rejoicing. See Image File # 37.

    A more detailed analysis reveals further occulted synchrony; for example, the six figures rejoicing symbolize the 144,000 first-fruits of humans, purified and saved for this heaven-like state—six is divisible into 144,000 exactly twenty-four times, and, summing the digits, twenty-four is a six (2+4=6). The number six corresponds to Isis, Venus, and the Virgin Mary. Nine (1+4+4+0+0+0=9) is the number signifying judgment, completion, attainment.

    The whole painting has three sections: the legend, the heavenly activity, and the earthly activity including vestiges of negative subterranean elements.

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