Palazzo Vecchio, Sailing Tortoises, and a UFO

You might be surprised to know that inside the medieval Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall (and museum) of Florence that there are 100 sailing tortoises and a UFO.

During the renaissance every important family had a motto, a saying which expressed their philosophy.  Cosimo I who came to power in Florence in 1537 looked to ancient Rome and took the maxim of the emperors, Augustus and Titus which was “festina lente”, or hasten slowly.  As a symbol of this idea, Cosimo chose a tortoise with a wind-filled sail on his back to remind him to find the perfect balance between speed and patience.  These sailing tortoises can be found all throughout the decoration of Palazzo Vecchio in many different forms, some are flying, some are in the water, and some are with angels.  There are approximately 100 of them scattered across the ceilings, walls and floors of the palace.  There is a special “turtle spotting” tour for children, but it is fun for adults to look for them too.

tartaruga Ercole

Cosimo I is also responsible for the building of the Uffizi next door to Palazzo Vecchio.  It was commissioned by him to house the government offices.  Now of course, it is a world famous art gallery and if you have been there you might feel that you have seen every possible version of  a “Madonna and Child” painting.

Madonna and Child… and UFO

But in Palazzo Vecchio, there is a very unusual one, nicknamed the “Madonna with the UFO”.  This is because it shows a curious object in the sky behind the Madonna’s head.  At first glance, it looks like it might be a bit of damage to the painting, but then you notice that there is a man with a dog and they are both gazing up at it.  It does look strange and some UFO “believers” take is as proof of a medieval close encounter.  Of course there is the less colourful explanation that it represents the heavenly announcement to the shepherds of the birth of Jesus.  What do you think?

Close-up of “object”
ovniarte09_04 man and dog
Close-up of man and dog looking at “object”

A version of this post was published in “The Florentine – The English-speaking news magazine in Florence“.  That article is HERE

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Margo Lestz
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