Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.

Luci Shaw & Botticelli

 Botticelli: Madonna and Child, with Saints  



Botticelli’s Madonna and Child, with Saints 

by Luci Shaw 


Jesus looking like a real baby, not

a bony homunculus, solemn and all-knowing.

The quill in the hand of his newly-minted mother

stretches toward the bottle of ink a beautiful boy saint

is holding out. He has waited for centuries for her

to write in a book the next words of her own Magnificat,

for the Gospel of St. Luke, and for us to sing in church.

Two other youths try to lower a crown onto her head.

It is too large for her, and they’ve held it there for so long,

but she seems bored with royalty, eyes only for

her son, and his for her. In her left hand, as she

supports the child, she holds a pomegranate

under his fingers for him to pluck, its red leather skin

peeled back to expose its packed rubies.

Centuries later the paint and the fruit are fresh

and tart as ever, glowing like blood cells.


I wonder about sound in the room--small talk among

the impossibly adolescent saints. Mary talking baby talk,

perhaps, or singing as if she has swallowed a linnet--

Mary with the pale green voice, nothing coloratura,

more like grapes glowing from a low trellis.

In the moist Italian twilight, a cricket is likely to be sawing

like the sawing of cedar boards in the work room just outside

the painting’s frame--Joseph laboring on a baby bed.


But there isn’t a bird or an insect. There is just this lovely girl,

waking to motherhood, humming, content in this

moment in time, to be God’s mother, to hold Jesus,

when he cries, to her leaking breast.


As Botticelli lifts with his skilled hand a fine brush

to add the next word to her song, we look with him

through the lens of his devotion into this ornate room.

He paints love pouring through her skin like light,

her eyes resting on the child as though

he is all there is, as though her knowing will never

be complete. Right from the beginning

“How can this be?” circles her mind with its echo. 



Sandro Botticelli: Madonna and Child, with Saints (The Madonna of the Magnificat)1481, tempera on wood, tondo 118 x 118 cm.

Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510). In an article about five Renaissance artists art history professor Rachel Smith writes: ‘Botticelli represents a poetic current in Renaissance art that appealed especially to the wealthy ruling elites of the time. He had a distinctive painting style characterized by a strong decorative appeal. The tapestry-like Primavera (Spring) and The Birth of Venus, perhaps his two most popular and widely reproduced paintings, reflect the concern for reconciling classical philosophy with Christian theology among the humanists who dominated the court of Lorenzo de' Medici. Botticelli's work took on a different tone after Savonarola's arrival in Florence. Savonarola's fiery preaching called for the cleansing and renewal of both the church and Florentine society. More somber in both subject and treatment, the paintings of the 1490s seem to reflect the growing tensions in Florentine society that arose, at least in part, from Savonarola's railing against both personal sin and institutional corruption.’ For the whole article by Rachel Smith, click here 

'Botticelli’s Madonna and Child, with Saints' was published in Luci Shaw, What the Light Was Like, 2007. 

Luci Shaw was born in 1928 inLondonEngland, and has lived in CanadaAustralia and the U.S.A. A 1953 high honors graduate ofWheatonCollege in Illinois, she became co-founder and later president of Harold Shaw Publishers. Shaw is a frequent retreat facilitator and leads writing workshops in church and university settings. She has lectured in North America and abroad on topics such as art and spirituality, the Christian imagination, poetry-writing, and journal-writing as an aid to artistic and spiritual growth. Shaw is author of ten volumes of poetry and of a long list of books.  Her most recent books are What the Light Was Like (Word Farm), Accompanied by Angels(Eerdmans), The Genesis of It All (Paraclete), and Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination & Spirit (Nelson). She and her husband John Hoyte live in Bellingham. See


- April 2024: Denise Levertov & Ernst Barlach
- January 2024: Wendell Berry and Carol Aust
- November 2023: Luci Shaw & Botticelli
- March 2023: Jill Baumgaertner & Liviu Mocan
- September 2022: The Uncompleted Man
- March 2022: Annukka Laine
- January 2022: Megan Fisher
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- September 2021: Pádraig Ó Tuama & Leo G. Franchi
- May 2021: Malcolm Guite & Unknown
- January 2021: Emily Dickinson & Henri Matisse
- December 2020: Allan Boesak & Harm Visser
- June 2020: Luci Shaw & Sebastian Wien
- November 2019: Dennis O’Driscoll & David Robinson
- June 2019: C.S. Lewis & Wayne Adams
- May 2019: Malcolm Guite & Andrea Mantegna: Ascension
- May 2019: Denise Levertov & Ernst Barlach
- October 2018: Sándor Reményik & Ildikó Mecséri
- August 2018: Abigail Carroll & Caravaggio
- May 2018: Bohuslav Reynek: Poet and Visual Artist
- March 2018: George MacDonald & James Ensor
- January 2018: Wendell Berry & Annukka Laine
- November 2017: Mary Oliver & Pauline Baynes
- August 2017: Ellyn Maybe & Pablo Picasso
- April 2017: Lucy Shaw & Henry Ossawa Tanner
- April 2017: Denise Levertov & Diego Velazquez
- February 2017: David L. Hatton & David L. Hatton
- November 2016: Dennis ODriscoll & David Robinson
- June 2016: Luci Shaw & Marietha Smit
- April 2016: Robert Browning & Pauline Baynes
- March 2016: Wendell Berry & Carol Aust
- January 2016: Dante G. Rossetti & Dante G. Rossetti
- December 2015: Sufjan Stevens & Geertgen tot Sint Jans
- September 2015: Thomas Merton & Andre Racz
- June 2015: Frances Bellerby & Jeltje Hoogenkamp
- March 2015: Christine Perrin & Ted Prescott
- January 2015: Jan Krist & Gor Chahal
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- October 2013: Hannah Main-van der Kamp & Tanja Butler
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- October 2013: Marilyn Chandler McEntyre & Johannes Vermeer
- September 2013: The Renewal of Ekphrasis by John Skillen