Joseph, in the middle ground, hands a rambunctious Christ child over to his mother who reaches for the boy over her right shoulder while just beyond the parapet is John the Baptist, and beyond that, a group of five, nude, pagan youths bear witness to Michelangelo”s preoccupation with the human figure even in such an unlikely context. The figures of the holy family have solid sculptural mass, brilliant color, and the feeling that they were sculpted first, then painted.
The painting is thought to have been a gift from Agnolo Doni to his wife Maddalena Strozzi on the occasion of the birth of their first child, Maria in 1507. The Doni family were wealthy Florentine bankers. Even at this point in his career, before Julius II had so much as considered a new ceiling for his chapel, Michelangelo was having a profound influence on painters such as Florentine artist, Agnolo Bronzino, and Palma Vecchio of Venice. It”s believed Michelangelo himself may have been influenced by the Florentine painter, Luca Signorelli who also rendered a holy family tondo about 1491 having some similar sculptural qualities which Michelangelo seems to have admired.
However in no way does Signorelli”s work match the brilliance of color we see in the Doni painting, and later, even more forcefully in the Sistine Chapel Ceiling. The mystery seems to be why a man who was so GOOD at it, seems to have ABHORRED painting so much