Doni Tondo

(c. 1503; Florence, Uffizi)
   The Doni Tondo is the first known painting by Michelangelo, created after he saw Leonardo da Vinci's cartoon for the Madonna and Child with St. Anne exhibited in the Monastery of Santisima Annunziata, Florence, on which he based his composition. The Doni Tondo depicts the Holy Family as three solid figures who form a pyramid, with the Virgin sitting on the ground, silhouetted against St. Joseph and the Christ Child. Behind them are the young St. John the Baptist and five nudes sitting on a low, semicircular wall. The painting was commissioned by Angelo Doni, a prosperous Florentine weaver, perhaps on the occasion of his marriage to Maddalena Strozzi. Certainly, the work can be related to marriage as it portrays Joseph and Mary as the model Christian couple. Also, the tondo (circular) format is associated occasionally with nuptials. It has been suggested that the crescent wall on which the nudes sit may refer to the Strozzi coat-of-arms, composed of three crescent moons, and that the nudes in the background possibly represent Mercy, Kindness, Humility, Modesty, and Patience—the five Virtues enumerated by St. Paul in Colossians III:12-17 and essential to maintaining harmony in marriage. The men have stripped so they may clothe themselves with these Virtues, as per St. Paul's instructions. Some scholars date the work somewhat later than c. 1503 and explain the presence of the Baptist as reference to the Doni's first four sons, all named after the saint, who died in infancy. The solidity of the figures, their well-defined contours, and precise description of all the elements within the work reflect Michelangelo's sculptural approach to painting.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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