UFFIZI, Michelangelo

Audio File length: 2.58
English / USA Language: English / USA

As soon as you go into the room dedicated to Michelangelo and the Florentine artists of the 1600s, you'll notice a curious circular painting depicting the Holy Family with St. John that's better known as the Doni Tondo.

It is Michelangelo's only panel painting that is intact and completely of his hand. Stop for a moment to admire it, not only because it's a must, but because it's yet another opportunity for you to take in the extraordinary artistic originality of the master who made David.

Michelangelo had just returned to Florence after having been glorified in Rome for his Vatican sculpture Pietà when the work was commissioned by the wealthy banker Angelo Doni, perhaps for his wedding. If you find the shape odd, you should know this form was very popular and traditional in early 16th-century Florentine painting.

Just as you saw in Botticelli's panels here in the Uffizi, the use of the tondo was widespread, especially in the residences of the wealthiest families, who also celebrated the continuity of their lineage by ordering these circular-shaped paintings.

The theme here is the Holy Family: in addition to Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus, you can also see the small St. John, Jesus's cousin. Michelangelo interprets this religious subject singularly. You'll notice a group of naked men in the background: art critics often interpret them as an allusion to the pagan world, and thus to humanity at a point before the coming of Christ. It certainly isn't easy to explain this enigmatic work!

Besides the original spiral composition of the Holy Family that sharply contrasts the horizontal layout of the naked men, note Michelangelo's innovative choice of enameled colors and the power of his figures. Try to imagine sitting in the same position as Mary, and you'll realize how uncomfortable it is. Is the Virgin passing her Son to Joseph, or is it the other way around? Why doesn't Mary turn towards Joseph to simplify the movement? We don't know how to answer these questions, but this fact lets you enjoy the daring solutions created by the artist even more. Of course, in this work Michelangelo expresses a new visual language that moves away from the serene and balanced forms of the 1400s and lays the foundations for the future Mannerism.


FUN FACT: as soon as he had finished the tondo, Michelangelo sent it to his client Doni, and asked him for 70 ducats. But the banker offered him 40. So the artist took the painting back and agreed to resell it to him only at double the price, 140 ducats!

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