The “Madonna and the UFO” in Florence

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The Sala d’Ercole in Florence’s historic Palazzo Vecchio houses a mysterious painting. The Madonna and Child with the Infant St. John was possibly the work by Sebastiano Mainardi and dates from the second half of the 15th century.

Madonna of the Ufo
“Madonna and the UFO”

The “Madonna and the UFO”

Over time one detail has overshadowed the work’s stylistic disquisitions. Behind the Madonna appears what at first glance seems to be a… ufo! The definition could seem audacious, but it looks to be a real unidentified object. This is not to be interpreted as extraterrestrial, rather in the artistic sense; what the author intended to represent is not really clear.

Madonna of the UFO
The mysterious object in the “Madonna and the UFO”

In the background, in the upper right corner, the figures of a shepherd and a dog stand out. Both seem to be looking at something in the sky, and the animal appears to be in the act of howling: perhaps frightened, they are staring at a mysterious luminous object that is plying the skies.

UFOs in Florence

Florence is no stranger to mysterious sightings. Famous is the episode of October 27, 1954, when a series of unidentified objects even caused the suspension of a football match. At the “Comunale” stadium (nowadays “Artemio Franchi”), Fiorentina was facing Pistoiese in the early hours of the afternoon. It was a match like many, but it is remembered for the incredible events that occurred at the beginning of the second half. Suddenly the ten thousand or so spectators fell silent, the players stopped playing, and everyone remained with their eyes fixed on the sky. Numerous flying objects, shaped like seagull wings, were crossing the skies over Florence.

Similar testimonies from unaware tourists, or frightened citizens, came even from the area of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The consternation at the Municipal Stadium was such that the referee had to suspend the game for about ten minutes. As if that were not enough, a strange white, sticky substance began to rain down copiously, which reporters at the time called “bambagia silicea”.

Scholars’ assumptions

A theory proposed by scientists is that a military exercise was underway on that October 27, 1954, which used special techniques to mislead the aircraft targeting system. The unidentified objects were nothing more than reflections of light caused by the instruments.

As for the siliceous bambagia, it was first speculated that it was the organic product of the secretion of some particular species of spiders. It is a well-known phenomenon that arachnids in the family Linyphiidae produce long filaments that permit them to move; this is a migratory phenomenon known in nature but difficult to observe in real time, known as “ballooning.”

However, CICAP scholars later discovered that there was a man-made substance called chaff that had a chemical composition very similar to that of “bambagia silicea”1. That chaff was used, for military purposes, to confuse the radar of enemy aircraft, and perhaps and caused the phenomena observed by the Florentine chroniclers. Could it be true?

The artistic depiction of the divine spirit in the Madonna and the UFO

Similarly, there is also a rational explanation for the strange detail of the Madonna and Child with the infant St. John. The stain, or ufo as it is called, could be a pictorial metaphor for the divine spirit, a theme that became frequent in Florentine art following the preaching of Girolamo Savonarola. Among the artists who depicted luminous clouds in the skies were Pinturicchio, Agnolo di Bronzino, and Domenico Ghirlandaio. The mysterious object is supposed to be God’s sign attesting to the birth of the Redeemer: the Merkavah, the Chariot of Fire mentioned in the Holy Scriptures by the prophet Ezekiel.

 Samuele Corrente Naso, translation by Daniela Campus


  1. Please refer to the CICAP article for further discussion. ↩︎
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