One of the earliest paintings by Michelangelo Buonarroti is the oil and tempera on panel of the Holy Family with St. John the Baptist, in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It’s better known as Tondo Doni because of its circular shape and the person who commissioned the work. The artist painted the piece in 1504 for Agnolo Doni, on the occasion of his marriage to Maddalena Strozzi.
Joseph, the Baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary form the centre of the painting with John the Baptist as a child behind them. This was Michelangelo’s way of conveying the connection between the Christian and pagan worlds and the generational shift: Jesus is the New Testament, who physically dominates his parents who symbolize the Old Testament. The nude figures allude to the world untouched by divine law and the young John the Baptist is the link between the Jewish Christian and pagan dimension.
The characters have precise profiles in order not to create any relationship with the background around them and the reversed movements of the figures create a rotating movement, which starts from the Virgin Mary’s twisted position and ends with the family embracing. Distinctive details include Mary’s lack of veil and her bare, muscular arms, as Michelangelo wanted to emphasize the Madonna’s great moral strength through physical vigour.