Sandro Botticelli (Italian artist, 1445-1510) Madonna and Child in a Niche Decorated with Roses
Here the Virgin is depicted with roses, suggesting metaphorical associations with the paradise bower of the Song of Songs. The rose is a symbol that has a complex symbolism and an ancient history. In the Christian religion, like the cross, it can have paradoxical meanings. It is at once a symbol of purity and a symbol of passion, heavenly perfection and earthly passion; virginity and fertility; death and life. In Catholic symbolism, the red rose is a symbol of Martyrdom, while the white rose is a symbol of purity since the earliest years of the Church. St. Ambrose relates how the rose came to have thorns. Before it became one of the flowers of the earth, the rose grew in Paradise without thorns. Only after the fall of man did the rose take on its thorns to remind man of the sins he had committed and his fall from grace; whereas its fragrance and beauty continued to remind him of the splendor of Paradise. It is probably in reference to this that the Virgin Mary is called a 'rose without thorns,' because she was exempt from Original Sin. In Renaissance art, a garland of roses is often an allusion to the Rosary of the Virgin.