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Madonna with Saint Giovannino: Painting with a UFO?

by Kimberly Lin

Is There a UFO in the Madonna with Saint Giovannino?

Madonna with Saint Giovannino is a 15th century painting at the center of a debate that has been going on for decades. Ancient alien theorists believe there is clearly a UFO in the background sky. Other historical paintings also depict strange objects in the sky, and this, say alien theorists, supports the argument that aliens have been coming to our planet and interacting with humans for millennia.

Madonna with Saint Giovannino

The Madonna with Saint Giovannino painting showing details of celestial object and shepherd with dog.

First, this article will discuss the artist most often credited with this work and also the controversy surrounding the true artist. Then it will present some information about religious symbology used during the Florentine Renaissance, and you can examine the strange UFO painting and decide for yourself whether or not you think the object is of alien origin.

Ghirlandaio the Credited Author

Domenico Ghirlandaio is most often credited with painting the Madonna with Saint Giovannino during the 15th century. Ghirlandaio was born to a family in Florence during the Renaissance period in 1449. His father was a goldsmith and became well-known for making the metal garlands that renaissance women wore around their heads. Thus, the family acquired the name Ghirlandaio, “garland maker.” Domenico Ghirlandaio started out as an apprentice under his father. Giorgio Vasari, an art historian who lived during the 1500s, said Ghirlandaio used to paint the people who would go into his father’s shop. Then later, he apprenticed with master painters and eventually set up his own art studio. His style of blending everyday scenes with religious themes (such as the one in the Madonna with Saint Giovannino) made Ghirlandaio very popular. He eventually became one of the most renowned Renaissance painters and was especially popular for his beautiful frescos.

Controversy Surrounding the True Painter

Although most articles credit Ghirlandaio, the true painter of the Madonna with San Giovannino is in dispute. Two artists also named as possible authors of the painting are Jacopo del Sellaio and Sebastiano Mainardi. Mainardi was an apprentice and brother-in-law of Ghirlandaio, who supervised Mainardi as his master. Their close association might explain why there is some confusion about the true artist.

Description of the Painting

The Madonna with Saint Giovannino depicts the Madonna with the infant Jesus and Saint John. In the background, there is a man with his hand held up to his face, as if shielding his eyes from a bright light. By his side is a dog with its mouth slightly open. Both the man and dog appear to be looking up at something in the sky. The object appears as a dark oval structure with light rays projecting out from all angles.

The painting currently hangs in the Palazzo Vecchio in Venice as part of a collection known as the Loeser Bequest. The American collector, Charles Alexander Loeser, generously left his collection of art to the city of Florence after his death in 1928.

Religious Symbology or Alien Spaceship?

Some people believe that the UFO in the painting is just one of the many representations of the gospel passage, “. . . shepherds abiding in the field keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, an angel of the Lord come upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them . . .” Gospel of Luke 2:8.

Madonna with Saint Giovannino

Madonna with Saint Giovannino depicting a common religious scene from the Renaissance Period. Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Other paintings from the Florentine Renaissance period depict a similar nativity scene with a shepherd and dog looking at a celestial object in the sky. The objects were most commonly angels and stars as the “Annunciation” took place across the land within Nativity scenes. However, across different times periods, God, angels, and other divine entities have often been portrayed in various ways in the form of fire, stars or comet-like objects, clouds, or on golden chariots flying through the sky.

Related: The Theft of Mona Lisa and What Made Her Famous

Below are two clear examples of angels that appear to be coming down on a heavenly cloud. The angels are emitting beams of golden light. These pieces are excerpts from the Nativity and The Adoration of the Christ Child and were painted during the 15th century during the Renaissance by Vincenzo Foppa.

Madonna with Saint Giovannino

Shepherd views angel on beaming cloud. Scene excerpted from the Nativity of Vincenzo Foppa, 15th century. Public domain.

Madonna with Saint Giovannino

Another shepherd scene with beaming angel excerpted from the Adoration of the Christ Child, by Vincenzo Foppa, 15th century. Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

The UFO Debate

Whatever the artist intended, there will always be those who insist that the strange object in the painting is an ancient alien spacecraft. After all, there are no wings or a body of an angel, which was the typical way to portray angels. Is it really alien, or is it just misinterpretation and a lack of understanding of religious iconography throughout art history? If these types of images really depict true alien spaceships, why were they so often shown within religious contexts, when, in the past, the Catholic Church has shunned science (read about Copernicus) and anything that may have conflicted with the bible?

Recently, the Vatican has acknowledged the possibility of life on other planets and indicates that they too are God’s creatures. So now, concepts of religion and aliens may be able to coexist in our modern world. But what about during the Renaissance? What do you think about the Madonna with Saint Giovannino?

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Domenico Ghirlandaio

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