A visit to the Barber

Today I was able to visit the Barber Institute to study Sandro Botticelli’s painting of The Virgin and Child with John the Baptist.

I’ve posted on this painting previously at these links:
In the beginning was the Word
Three times a lady

But I have since discovered the painting has a strong link to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mother and Child with St Anne, and I shall be posting more about this.

Today’s visit was rewarding. I was able to recognise a feature I hadn’t picked up on before. As I looked at the painting, I wondered about the thin gold strip between the Baptist and the Virgin. It forms part of the background scene but yet seems out of place. Was it there to link the two figures in any way? And then the answer came to me.

Embedded in the Virgin’s mantle is a Picasso-like facial feature, perhaps pointing to one of her titles, Our Lady of Sorrows. The lower half of the face is veiled. Above that are depicted the nose and the eye. 

The Baptist is shown clothed in a camel skin. So the thin gold strip represents a needle and is Botticelli’s way of pointing to the verse from Matthew’s gospel about the danger of riches, when Jesus said to his disciples, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (20:19).

Rotate the painting 90 degrees and notice the shape of a camel’s head in John the Baptist’s camel-skin garment.

The Virgin represents Our Lady of Mount Carmel from which the Carmelite Order takes its name. The mount was also given the name Camel Nose or Antelope Nose because of its shape. The Virgin is shown barefoot, and so represents the Order of Discalced Carmelites, the reformed section of the Order whose members walk with their feet uncovered.