Works from the National Gallery of Art

Botticelli - Madonna and Child

A young, pale-skinned woman with reddish-blond hair sits with a nearly nude, chubby toddler standing in her lap in this vertical painting.
“Madonna and Child,” c. 1470, by Sandro Botticelli, tempera on panel,
Andrew W. Mellon Collection, National Gallery of Art
Postage stamp featuring a young, pale-skinned woman with reddish-blond hair sitting with a nearly nude, chubby toddler standing in her lap.
1988 Christmas stamp issued October 20th in Washington, DC (Scott 2399)

The 1988 traditional Christmas stamp was derived from a painting by Florentine artist Sandro Botticelli, perhaps in collaboration with artists in his studio (Boskovits 2003). Botticelli is most famous for his “Birth of Venus,” which was probably a commission from a member of the powerful Florentine Medici family. His “Madonna and Child” was relatively unchanged on the stamp, but for a few significant details. The stamp image, designed by Bradbury Thompson, crops out a gilded star that appears on Mary’s shoulder, and also the gilding on her sleeve and neckline. Her halo is more substantial on the stamp, almost like an Italian bonnet, and her veil is more pronounced, altering the gaze between Mary and her son. In the painting, Mary’s head is turned more toward the infant Jesus, and both their expressions are somewhat less serious than on the stamp. However, it is the space between their two faces that is most altered. In the painting, there is a strong linear connection directly between Mary’s and Jesus’ eyes. This is obscured in the stamp, making their relationship seem less intense. The psychological closeness, handled quite delicately in the oil painting, was difficult to reproduce, even in a newly enlarged stamp designed for the 1988 Christmas issue (Postal Bulletin Sept. 29, 1988).

Art historians have discovered that when painting the portrait of mother and child, Botticelli actually made many changes. For example, Mary’s dress initially was belted and the infant’s clothing shortened for the finished painting. Also, the position of both Mary’s and her son’s hands and heads were altered (Boskovits 2003).