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The Nativity

Sandro Botticelli

Italian (Florentine), 1444-1510
c. 1473-1475
Fresco transferred to canvas
Gift of Samuel H. Kress Foundation

Sandro Botticelli is arguably the most renowned Renaissance master of the 15th century. The Nativity is not only the sole Botticelli fresco in the United States, but the only one exhibited outside of Italy. The work may have originally been displayed outside at an open-air tabernacle in Florence. In 2015, The Nativity travelled for the first time since its acquisition by the CMA as a loan to the Bunkamura Museum of Art in Tokyo, Japan. The Bunkamura gifted a new, custom-made frame. The Nativity is now reinstalled at the CMA in a period-appropriate frame that suits the majesty of Botticelli’s composition. Not only is Botticelli’s use of perspective strikingly neat and symmetrical in The Nativity, but there is symbolism to be found upon a closer look at the fresco. For example, the Christ Child is propped up on rolls of wheat. This both alludes to the town of Bethlehem’s meaning “town of bread” and to Christ’s body as part of the Christian ceremony of the Eucharist (communion). 

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