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After Celebrating Food in Famous Paintings, the Uffizi Galleries Turned to Married Love

Normally celebrated with music and dance, this year due to Covid, the Uffizi Galleries invited couples to la “Giornata dell’amore”--but only those in Tuscany

Debora Massari's evocation of the frame of Michelangelo's "Doni Tondo". Photo: Uffizi Galleries

The Uffizi’s celebration started on January 29, when the Museums posted “The Doni Spouses,” narrated by the retired head art historian at the Uffizi, Marzia Faietti, on Facebook. As for Massari’s three-part sweet, “crema di bianca mangiare”, it’s a work of art in itself. Only an expert pastry chef like Massari could possibly skillfully combine the long list of ingredients and make it look like art as well…

Two years ago, and again last year, the Director of the Uffizi Galleries, Eike Schmidt, “invited” married couples from all over Italy to celebrate the Donis’ wedding anniversary, “La Festa dei Doni” on January 31 by visiting the Uffizi at half price.  Last year 1,192 couples attended the celebration, which included dance and musical performances, and the museums closed late, at 9 PM.

Raffaello’s portraits of Agnolo Doni and his wife Maddelena Strozzi. Photo: Uffizi Galleries

This year, because of the necessity for social distancing and the fact that museums must still remain closed on the weekends, such a celebration was not possible.  Nonetheless, since January 31 fell on a Sunday, on Monday, February 2, couples paid half price and the occasion was named the “Giornata dell’Amore” (The Day of Love). And because of Covid restrictions, only couples from Tuscany were eligible to attend.

Actually, the Uffizi’s celebration started three days earlier, on January 29, when on Facebook the Museums posted “The Doni Spouses,” narrated by the retired head art historian at the Uffizi, Marzia Faietti. Here she recounts that Agnolo was one of the richest men in the Florence of his time and invested his wealth in gems, ancient art and paintings by his favorite Fra Bartolomeo and Michelangelo, as well as by Raphael, for his own pleasure, but also for the glory of his beloved Florence.

Self portrait of Raffaello. Photo: Uffizi Galleries

Agnolo commissioned the “Doni Spouses”, once a diptych, for his bedroom in his home on Corso de’ Tintori to celebrate his wedding to Maddalena Strozzi on January 31 in 1503 or 1504 (scholars cite both years). Thanks to x-rays we know that Raphael painted Maddalena’s portrait first, Faietti tells us, because he made some changes to its background, previously an interior overlooking a landscape.

Her portrait seems to show the influence of Leonardo da Vinci also working in Florence at the time: Maddalena’s half-bust presentation, her posture, her clothing, and her enigmatic expression can be compared to the “Mona Lisa”.

In addition, although more severe and painted a year later, Raphael’s portrait of “La Muta” is also not unlike Maddalena’s, except that she lacks Maddalena’s opulent pendant of a ruby, emerald, sapphire and large pearl in a gold unicorn-shaped mount, certainly a wedding present from Agnolo. The pearl was the symbol of Maddalena’s prenuptial purity and future marital fidelity.

Instead, Agnolo’s portrait was inserted into an already painted landscape similar to the one in Maddalena’s portrait and shows the influence of portraits by Perugino, Raphael’s teacher, especially the one of Francesco delle Opere. The landscapes of both Doni portraits are similar to those of Fra Bartolomeo’s.

Faietti also describes the monochrome paintings to be seen on the reverse of both Doni portraits, executed by the little known “Maestro Serumido”. They would have been visible when they were two parts of a folding diptych.

“The Flood of the Gods” Photo: Uffizi Galleries

They depict scenes from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, allegories to wish fertility to the marriage.

Behind Agnolo is “The Flood of the Gods,” representing when Zeus decided to destroy humanity.  Behind Maddalena are Deucalion and Pyrrha.

When the flood ended, Deucalion and Pyrrha, an elderly childless couple, were the only survivors, so Zeus ordered them to throw stones over their shoulders.  Deucalion’s stones turned into men, while Pyrrha’s into women so the world was repopulated.

As for Massari’s three-part sweet, “crema di bianca mangiare”, it’s a work of art in itself. However, only an expert pastry chef like Massari could possibly combine its long list of ingredients, which include: pumpkin pulp and marmalade, lemon marmalade, lemon peel, vanilla, gelatin, almonds, whipped cream, chocolate, sugar; much less follow its numerous creative steps.  In short, a masterpiece, but not for an amateur cook!

Massari began her presentation by comparing her father’s pastry shop in Brescia, where she and her brother Nicola learned the tricks of the trade, to Raphael’s Roman bottega of disciples.

Debora Massari’s evocation of the frame of Michelangelo’s “Doni Tondo”. Photo: Uffizi Galleries

She went on to say that her sweet had an Arab origin and came to mainland Italy via Sicily before explaining how she made her meticulously carved marzipan into a circular frame similar to Michelangelo’s “Doni Tondo”. She then sprayed the base of this dessert with gold leaf. Her final touch was placing two short crust pastry disks topped with a gelatin ring filled with pumpkin pulp and more, one glazed with lemon icing, the other with chocolate icing, on the marzipan base so that they formed an infinity.

Michelangelo’s “Doni Tondo”. Photo: Uffizi Galleries

The Doni couple will also be the subject of a third video, which will be voiced over by one of six love sonnets written by Raphael.

Its text reads:

Amor che m’envocasti con doi lumi

dei doi beli occhi dov’io me strugo e (s)face,

da bianca neve e da rosa vivace,

da un bel parlar in donnessi costume.


Tal che tanto ardo, ch (e) né né fiumi

Spegnar potrian quell foco; ma non mi spiace,

poiché ‘lmio ardor tanto di ben mi face,

ch’ardendo oni or più arder me consum(mi).


Quanto fu dolce el giogo e la catena

de’ tuoi candidi braci al col mio vò(ti)

che, sogliendomi, io sento mortal pen(a).


D’altre cose io non dico, che for m(olti)

ché soperchia docenza a mo(r)te men(a)

e però tacio, a te i pens(er) rivolti.

Debora Massari. Photo: Courtesy of Debora Massari

During the two weeks between January 31 and St. Valentine’s Day, additional posts with a love theme “will flower” on the Uffizi’s social networks.  They will be dedicated to all forms of love (purely sexual, marital, filial, brotherly, etc.). Their poets will span from ancient times to the present: Sappho, Ovid, Tasso, Shakespeare, D’Annunzio, Emily Dickinson, Hermann Hesse, Walt Whitman, Aida Merini, Sylvia Plath and Baudelaire.

The Uffizi is also home to two other portraits (this time they are profiles) of another cultured Renaissance married couple, Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, condottiero, renowned intellectual humanist (1422-1482) and his wife Battista Sforza (1446-1472). They were painted by Piero della Francesca between 1467-1472, and Battista’s is possibly posthumous.

Like the Doni portraits, they too were originally diptychs painted on the back. Federico and his wife are portrayed on two allegorical antique wagons accompanied by the Virtues.

Appropriately, the Duke is wearing his armor and is being crowned by Victory. Temperance, Fortitude, Justice and Prudence accompany him.  His wagon is pulled by white horses.

The Duchess on the other hand, is accompanied by Chastity and Modesty; with Charity and Faith sitting in the front of her wagon pulled by brown unicorns.

Duke of Urbino and wife Battista Sforza by Piero della Francesca. Photo: Uffizi Galleries

The Duke was a bibliophile and built up the largest library of manuscripts–with its own scriptorium–in Italy after the Vatican’s.  At the time of his death the library contained more than 900 volumes: 600 in Latin or Vernacular, 168 in Greek, 82 in Hebrew, and 2 in Arabic.

The Duke’s prize possession was his magnificently illuminated Bible.  In 1657 Pope Alexander VII (r. 1655-1667) demanded the transfer of the library’s contents from Urbino to the Vatican.


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