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The Mystical Nativity
The Mystical Nativity is an oil-on-canvas painting by the Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli, dated around 1500 to 1501. It is his only signed work and has unusual iconography for a painting of the Nativity. The Virgin Mary is shown kneeling before the Christ Child in the centre, in the presence of the shepherds and wise men who are visiting him. At the bottom of the work, three angels embrace three men, seeming to raise them up from the ground, while seven devils behind them flee to the underworld. In Renaissance times, paintings of the Last Judgement showed viewers the reckoning of the damned and the saved at the time of Christ's Second Coming. According to art historian Jonathan Nelson, "in echoing this kind of painting the Mystical Nativity is asking us to think not only of Christ's birth but of his return".

The Greek inscription at the top of the work, referencing the Book of Revelation, translates as: '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 [chapter] 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 [chapter] and we shall see [him buried] as in this picture'. It has been suggested that the work may be connected with the influence of the fanatical preacher Girolamo Savonarola, who was active in Florence at the time and whose influence appears in a number of late paintings by Botticelli. The painting is in the collection of the National Gallery in London.Painting credit: Sandro Botticelli

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