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  • Cobblers: a UFO in Palazzo Vecchio? March 4, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback

    The Madonna col bambino e san Giovannino was painted in a hazy month sometime at the end of the fifteenth century. It hangs today in a corner room on the highest story of Palazzo Vecchio. Its artist – the work is ascribed to Sebastiano Mainardi, Jacopo del Sellaio or one of half a dozen other of that golden generation… – would be happy to know that the picture is still much visited today. Beachcombing never walks into this room without seeing at least a couple of gawping tourists, who often spend ten minutes or more examining details. However, the original artist would be horrified to know why they are pointing. For the viewers are not, for the most part, there to enjoy the brushwork or the baby’s alarmingly impressive torso. Rather they are taking in the UFOs flying around the background of the picture. Beachcombing now, with a wave of his wand, offers some close-ups.

    Note, first, the UFO above the right shoulder of the Madonna.

    And, if this is not enough to get the Erik von Daniken in you purring, then what about the floating octopi off to the left? Are they – as has been suggested – probes leaving the mother ship?

    This picture, in fact, fits neatly into the ultra Christian symbolism of Savonarola’s Florentine republic with which the picture is contemporary. First, the ‘UFO’ in the upper right is a common convention in pictures of the time: a shepherd (seen clearly here on the hill and horizon of the sea) observing cloud-floating angels in the sky, announcing the nativity. True, in this case there is no angel – something that is unusual. But the motif is so common that it cannot be mistaken. Beachcombing would forward any interested reader to the following (excellent) Italian-language site for ‘UFO’ pictures, but includes one here for good measure.

    As to the star on top left with three octopus squiggles beneath. These are not Venetians, but a classical medieval symbol for the Madonna with her triple virginity. If this had been painted elsewhere in Italy, it would be antiquarian at this date. But once more the artist was working in the heady theocratic atmosphere of Savonarola’s Florence where reaction and invention, for a while, rubbed along together and where even Botticelli returned to God for a time.

    Beachcombing has, in the eight months of writing this blog stayed away from UFOs because they bring out the worst in him. But flicking through various art history books this last weekend he was impressed by just how paltry all the ‘UFO’ references in art are: can anyone come up with a really good, genuine UFO in a Renaissance painting – drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com? Or is all we have the detritus of medieval Christian symbolism and some blurs and blots on the canvas?

    As he’s now in the mood Beachcombing will leave you with his personal favourite ‘conspiracy’ piece, this remarkable work by Masolino da Panicale. Do we have here an angelic Martian invasion or, well, clouds?

    Clue: the picture refers to a ‘miracle of the snow’.