My favourite painting: Mark Price

'The picture reminds me of her: I swear she is an angel.'

‘The Madonna of the Magnificent’, 1480–81, by Sandro Botticelli (1445–1510), diameter 118in, the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

Mark Price says:
I saw “The Madonna of the Magnificent” with Judith, in Florence, this May to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. The picture reminds me of her: I swear she is an angel. We bought a Victorian watercolour copy a number of years ago and it hangs in our dining room. The detail, particularly the crown being placed on Mary’s head by the angels, is exquisite. The landscape makes me think of the views from our garden as I travel the world. Lastly, when negotiating, I remember Lily, our youngest daughter, saying the picture is wrong as Jesus was black, not fair-haired and blue-eyed. We all see the world through our own lens.

Lord Price is Minister of State at the Department for International Trade. He was formerly Managing Director of Waitrose

John McEwen comments on ‘The Madonna of the Magnificent’:
Also known as ‘The Madonna of The Magnificat’, after Mary’s spontaneous prayer when her cousin Elizabeth recognised she was to be the mother of Jesus, Son of God (Luke 1:43–48)—

My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden:
For, behold, all generations shall call me blessed

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this picture is indeed magnificent: lavishly gilded, its 10ft width enabling almost life-size figures. It was the costliest tondo (round picture or sculptural relief) that Botticelli painted, probably at that date the most revered of all Madonna pictures, which may explain the five contemporary copies from the artist’s workshop that still exist, one of them in the Louvre.

Two angels crown Mary Queen of Heaven. The crown glimmers with stars, an allusion to one of her sacred names, Stella Matutina (Morning Star). Three other angels, the divine rays of the front two barely visible, help her complete writing The Magnificat in a prayer book. The front angel provides the inkwell for her quill. Jesus helps clutch a pomegranate, symbol of regeneration and therefore of his future Resurrection. The seeds and their leathery casing also symbolise the Church—the many united in one.

A stone-framed window reveals a day-lit landscape with a sky of celestial Marian blue, a device Botticelli and other Italian painters stole from the Flemish masters— the likes of Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden and Hubert van der Goes, whose work arrived in Italy through the growing trade with the low Countries.


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