The Mystery of the Madonna and the UFO

The Mystery of the Madonna and the UFO

The painting "Madonna and Child with the Infant St John", which can be found in the Hercules Room of the Palazzo Vecchio is affectionately known locally as "Madonna dell’UFO" or "Our Lady of the Flying Saucer"...

Somebody call Dan Brown – it turns out that a hidden message in a Da Vinci painting isn’t as good as it gets when it comes to art conspiracy theories. In fact, tourists on a Florence Italy guided tour may find themselves face to face with what some people consider proof that unidentified flying objects have been among us as far back as the Renaissance. So just what is it that has ufologists so excited?

The painting in question is the "Madonna and Child with the Infant St John", which can be found in the Hercules Room of the Palazzo Vecchio and is affectionately known locally as "Madonna dell’UFO" or "Our Lady of the Flying Saucer". It was painted in the 15th century, and has been variously attributed to Domenico Ghirlandaio, Filippino Lippi, Sebastiano Mainardi and to Jacopo del Sellaio. It depicts the Madonna with the infant Christ and St John the Baptist. St John is, in fact, the Patron Saint of Florence, so this may have something to do with how the painting was commissioned.

But it’s not the central figures of the work that have caused so much controversy. This comes from a small spot in the sky above Mary’s shoulder. On close inspection, it appears to be a domed metal craft, and looks very much like a B-movie flying saucer. What’s more, on the ground below is a man staring incredulously at the object while his dog barks at it. But is it really an alien invasion, and is this the Italian Roswell?

Of course, there’s a simple enough explanation. In many other paintings of the Nativity or Adoration we find a shepherd holding his hand to his head in a similar way as he gazes in wonder at a luminous cloud (often with an angel emerging from it). The angel may not be included here, but with some of the original gilding intact, art historians believe that it’s almost certainly the same bright cloud. Nevertheless, it does add a fun bit of contemporary mystery to a tour of the gallery.

While in the area, you’ll also want to head next door for an Uffizi guided tour, taking in the spectacular collection of Renaissance art. You won’t find any UFOs here, but you will find masterpieces by Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Giotto, Botticelli, Caravaggio and Raphael. Uffizi tours take in all these and more, with highlights like the "Birth of Venus" and "Madonna of the Goldfinch". Be sure to look out especially for Ghirlandaio’s "Adoration of the Magi" for the Ospedale degli Innocenti, as this has the bright cloud and shepherd mentioned above.