I originally published this post on September 15, 2015. It detailed the interpretive discoveries I had made over the previous 10 years. I repeat it here for new readers, and include an abstract of my later interpretation of Michelangelo's Doni Tondo. In addition to the websites mentioned below, I have also published these findings at academia.edu.
Giorgione: The Tempest
David Teniers; Copy of a lost Giorgione
Giorgione: Three Ages of Man
Palma Vecchio: Allegory
Titian: Sacred and Profane Love
Titian: Pastoral Concert
Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo is one of the greatest masterpieces of the High Renaissance. It is his only surviving panel painting and now hangs in the Uffizi in its original frame. Most scholars date it somewhere between the completion of the David in 1504 and Michelangelo’s departure from Florence to Rome in 1506. At first glance, it appears to be simply a traditional rendering of the Holy Family but, on closer inspection, it raises a number of questions.
In the foreground Mary, Joseph, and the Infant Jesus are situated in a landscape. But what is going on? Is Mary handing the Child to Joseph, or is Joseph handing the Child to Mary? Why does Mary look as she does with muscular arms shockingly uncovered? What is Joseph doing in the painting? Why, despite artistic tradition, has he been brought so prominently into the center to play an apparently key role? What is the young John the Baptist doing behind a parapet or wall in the midground? Finally, who are the five male nudes in the background, and why are they there?
This paper seeks to answer all of these questions. It argues that Mary is offering her Son as a priest does at the Consecration of every Mass. Seeing the painting in this manner, we can then explain the prominent position of Joseph, as well as the role of the young John the Baptist in the mid-ground. Finally, the paper identifies the nudes in the background as the Giants in the Earth or Nephilim found in the biblical story of Noah.