Titian: Madonna of the Rabbit or “Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine


Titian’s so-called “Madonna of the Rabbit,” currently hangs in the Louvre. The Museum’s website notes the popular title but more accurately labels the painting as “The Virgin and Child with St. Catherine and a Shepherd, known as the Madonna of the Rabbit.” Actually, a better title would be “The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine,” a common devotional subject during the Renaissance.

Today, I placed in the page section of this site an interpretive essay on the painting that originally appeared on January 7, 2014 as a post on my blog, Giorgione et al…  In the essay I take issue with the Louvre and others about two important details in the painting.

In the first place, I do not believe that Titian has depicted a shepherd in this painting.  In my interpretation the man dressed in rustic attire in the mid-ground is St. Joseph, the protector of Mary and the infant Jesus. He is often included in versions of the Mystic Marriage by Venetian renaissance artists.

Secondly, although the label, “Madonna of the Rabbit” will probably lnever be changed, I disagree with the Louvre’s explanation that the white rabbit is a sign of Mary’s virginal fecundity. X-ray examination has shown that the rabbit was not originally present. Initially, Titian placed Mary’s left arm on her lap. Why, on second thought, did he add the white rabbit?  My essay argues that the white rabbit is the equivalent of the Eucharistic host.


Giorgione et al…


In addition to the interpretive discoveries listed on the page menu above, I have been writing about Giorgione, Titian, and the Renaissance on my blog site, Giorgione et al…, since September 2010. At the suggestion of Hasan Niyazi, my late Australian friend who created the very popular blog, Three Pipe Problem, I decided to use a blog to attract a wider audience. Since then, there have been almost 300000 page views at Giorgione et al…. Below find a table of contents for the blog site.

Giorgione: The Tempest. 9/7/2010

The Discovery of Paris. 9/13/2010

Giorgione: Three Philosophers. 9/20/2010

Boy with an Arrow. 9/27/10

Giorgione. “Laura”. 10/4/2010

Manchester Madonna. 10/11/2010

Titian: Vendramin Family. 10/14/2010

Tempesta “Pentimenti”. 10/24/2010

Luca Signorelli and Giorgione. 10/30/2010.

Giorgione Tempest. The Solitary Bird. 11/5/2010.

Giorgione and Paris Bordone: St. Joseph. 11/13/2010.

Giorgione “Tempest” Followers. 11/21/2010.

Giorgione “Tempest”: Gypsy Madonna. 11/26/2010.

Giorgione Tempest: A Gypsy Woman. 12/4/2010.

Giorgione, Michelangelo and Renaissance Nudity. 12/12/2010.

Giorgione Princeton Symposium. 12/18/2010.

Giorgione: Madonna and Child. 12/21/2010.

Giorgione: Historical Imagination. 1/1/2011.

Giorgione: “Virgilian” Tempest. 1/8/2011.

Giorgione: “Platonic” Tempest. 1/16/2011.

Giorgione: “Lucretian” Tempest. 1/23/2011.

Giorgione: Grimani Breviary. 1/30/2011. 

Giorgione and Correggio. 2/6/2011.

Giorgione: The Madonna in Art. 2/13/2011.

Giorgione: Patrons and Painters. 2/20/2011.

Giorgione: “Due Notte”. 2/27/2011.

Giorgione and Cima da Conegliano. 3/6/2011

Giorgione: Renaissance Conference, March 2011, St. Louis. 3/12/2011

Giorgione and Lorenzo Lotto. 3/20/2011.

Giorgione and Mantegna: Exceptional Painters. 3/26/2011.

Giorgione and Patenier. 4/2/2011.

Giorgione Catalogs. 4/10/2011.

Giorgione: Judith. 4/17/2011.

Giorgione: Christ Carrying the Cross. 4/23/2011.

Giorgione and Fra Bartolomeo. 4/30/2011.

Giorgione Tempest: Adam and Eve? 5/7/2011.

Giorgione’s Tempest: A Renaissance Mystery Solved. 5/13/2011

Giorgione and Gerard David. 5/23/2011.

Giorgione: Sacred Art Guides. 5/28/2011.

Giorgione and Giovanni Bellini. 6/5/2011.

Giorgione and Titian. 6/12/2011.

Giorgione: Rona Goffen’s Venetian Eyes. 6/18/2011.

Giorgione: “Saturn Exiled” or “Man of Sorrows”. 6/25/2011.

Giorgione Tempest: a Vision. 7/3/2011.

Giorgione Tempest: Paris and Oenone. 7/9/2011.

Giorgione and Raphael. 7/16/2011.

Giorgione: Paintings and Patricians. 7/23/2011.

Giorgione and the Young Titian. 7/30/2011.

Giorgione: Castelfranco Altarpiece. 8/7/2011.

Giorgione: Castelfranco Altarpiece 2. 8/14/2011.

Giorgione and Jan van Scorel. 8/21/2011 

Giorgione: Mary Magdalen. 9/4/2011.

Giorgione: Sleeping Venus. 9/21/2011.

Giorgione: “Boy with an Arrow” 2. 9/28/2011.

Giorgione: “Three Ages of Man.” 10/8/2011.

Giorgione and the Young Titian 2. 10/22/2011.

Veronese: Mary Magdalen. 11/15/2011.

Giorgione and Titian: Mystery and Enigma. 11/24/2011.

Giorgione, Titian and the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. 12/8/2011.

Giorgione: “Virgilian” Tempest 2. 12/14/2011.

Giorgione, Titian and a Venetian Humanist. 12/23/2011.

Giorgione and Paris. 1/5/2012.

Giorgione: Allendale Adoration of the Shepherds. 1/13/2012.

Giorgione, Titian and Venetian Humanism. 1/27/2012.

Giorgione, Titian, and Anna Jameson. 2/8/2012.

Duccio: Maesta. 2/16/2012.

Giorgione: More Tempests. 2/22/2012.

Mary Magdalen. 3/2/2012.

Titian: “Flora”. 3/14/2012.

Renaissance Conference New Orleans. 3/22/2012.

Giovanni Bellini: Pieta. 3/31/2012.

Emile Male: Sacred Symbolism. 4/15/2012.

Giorgione: Catalog. 4/28/2012.

Titian: Sacred and Profane Love. 5/6/2012.

Bellini, Titian, Lotto. 5/17/2012.

Giorgione: Trial of Moses and Judgment of Solomon. 5/31/2012.

Giorgione and Leonardo. 6/14/2012.

Bellini, Giorgione, Titian bibliography. 6/28/2012.

Giorgione, Titian bibliography. 7/8/2012 

Giorgione: “Man of Sorrows.” 7/30/2012.

Titian: Presentation of the Virgin. 8/3/2012.

Giorgione’s Venice. 8/14/2012.

Giorgione Self- Portrait. 9/1/2012.

Giorgione’s Reputation. 9/11/2012.

Giorgione’s World. 9/24/2012.

Giorgione’s Apprenticeship at Padua. 10/16/2012.

Giorgione: Scientific Examinations. 11/3/2012

Giovanni Bellini and Giorgione: From Padua to Venice. 11/17/2012

Giorgione’s Tempest: Broken Columns. 12/4/2012

Giorgione’s Tempest: The Young Man. 12/15/2012.

Giorgione’s Tempest: The Young Man, Part II. 12/22/2012.

Giorgione’s Tempest: The Nursing Woman. 1/4/2013.

Giorgione’s Tempest: Marian Symbols. 1/15/2013.

Giorgione’s Tempest: The Woman Clothed with the Sun. 1/25/2013.

Giorgione’s Tempest: Massacre of the Innocents. 2/7/2013.

Ringling Museum of Art. 2/17/2013.

Titian: “Sacred and Profane Love”, Relief. 2/26/2013.

Titian: Sacred and Profane Love, Relief Figures of Adam and Eve. 3/7/2013.

Titian: “Sacred and Profane Love”, Conversion of St. Paul. 3/19/2013.

Titian: Sacred and Profane Love, Relief Summary. 3/29/2013.

Raphael: St. Cecilia. 4/18/2013.

The New Connoisseurship. 4/30/2013.

Giorgione: “Tempest”, First Edition. 5/13/2013.

Houghton Hall Exhibition. 5/20/2013.

Titian Exhibition: Rome, 2013. 6/6/2013.

Pastoral Concert. 6/17/2013.

Giorgione and Titian: Pastoral Concert. 7/1/2013.

Giorgione: The Three Philosophers. 7/15/2013.

Giorgione: Boy with an Arrow. 7/31/2013.

Giorgione’s Laura, Titian’s Flora, and Mary Magdalen. 8/19/2013.

Stokstad on Giorgione’s Tempest. 8/31/2013.

Renaissance Art Mysteries. 9/11/2013.

Renaissance Art Mysteries: Mary and Judith. 9/26/2013.

Renaissance Art Mysteries: Young St. Joseph. 10/9/2013.

Renaissance Art Mysteries: Giorgione “Saturn Exiled” or “Man of Sorrows.” 10/21/2013 

Hasan Niyazi R.I.P. 10/28/2013.

Renaissance Mysteries. Raphael’s “Vision of Ezekiel”? 11/5/2013.

Renaissance Mysteries; The Old Woman in Titian’s “Presentation.” 11/19/2013 

Titian at the Norton Simon Museum. 12/14/2013.

Giorgione: Christmas Stamp. 12/24/2013.

Titian: Madonna of the Rabbit. 1/7/2014.

Venice in 1500. 1/22/2014.

Jesus and Mary Magdalen. 3/12/2014.

Raphael, Giorgione, and the Flight into Egypt. 3/27/2014.

Renaissance Society Conference. 4/12/2014.

Durer in Venice. 4/29/2014.

Giorgione: “La Tempesta.” 5/13/2014 

Giorgione: Lost Discovery of Paris. 5/28/2014.

Giorgione: Three Philosophers. 6/9/2014.

Giorgione and Marcantonio Michiel. 6/26/2014.

Giorgione and Morto da Feltro. 7/12/2014

Lorenzo Lotto: Crucifixion. 7/25/2014.

Titian: Assumption of Mary. 8/11/2014.

Giorgione Scholarship. 9/6/2014.

Leonardo: Last Supper. 9/18/2014.

Giovanni Bellini: St. Francis in the Desert. 9/29/2014.

The Vision of Ezekiel. 10/14/2014.

Raphael: Czartoryski Portrait. 10/28/2014.

Giorgione, Vasari, and a Judith Fresco. 11/16/2014.

Giorgione: Tempesta Pentimenti. 11/27/2014.

The Immaculate Conception in the Art of the Renaissance. 12/8/2014.

Giorgione: Adoration of the Shepherds. 12/24/2014.

Giorgione, Titian, and the Venetian Renaissance. 1/9/2015.

Norton Simon Duveen Exhibition: Primadonna. 3/4/2015.

Michelangelo: Doni Tondo. 4/4/2015.

Michelangelo: Doni Tondo Revision I. 5/31/2015.

Doni Tondo Revision II: John the Baptist. 7/3/2015.

Doni Tondo Revision III: The Nudes in the Background. 7/21/2015.

Michelangelo Doni Tondo: A Further Note on the Nudes. 9/3/2015.

Giorgione and Titian: Renaissance Mysteries. 9/17/2015.

Giorgione: Contemporary Sources. 10/13/2015.

Hasan Niyazi Correspondence. 10/28/2015.

Giorgio Vasari on Giorgione. 11/25/2015

Giorgione: Adoration of the Shepherds. 12/18/2015.

Edward Hutton on Giorgione. 1/23/2016.

Giorgione: Portrait of a Young Man (Giustiniani). 3/5/2016.

Royal Academy Exhibition: In the Age of Giorgione. 3/16/2016.

The Age of Giorgione: Three Landscapes. 4/15/2016.

Giorgione: the Tempest. 5/13/2016.

Doni Tondo Bibliography. 7/10/2016.


Michelangelo: Doni Tondo


Michelangelo: Doni Tondo:

Doni frame

On July 7, 2016 I posted my interpretation of Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo as a page on this site. In my paper I argue that Michelangelo has depicted the Madonna acting as a priest elevating her Child in the same way a priest elevates the Host at the Consecration of the Mass. All the other characters in the painting are related to Mary’s offering.

The interpretation was originally published as a series of four essays on my blog, Giorgione et al… between April 4, 2015 and 7/21/2015. I was originally drawn to take a close look at the painting by the discussion of the painting in Timothy Verdon’s, Mary in Florentine Art. I came across the book by accident over a year ago but I found it hard to agree with Verdon’s analysis. I decided to depart from my work on Giorgione and Titian for awhile and enter the world of Michelangelo.

It turned out to be a much larger task than I had envisioned. I have to admit that my first essay did not go deep enough and I subsequently had to write three separate ones exploring the roles of Mary and Joseph, John the Baptist, and the nudes in the background more fully. I left my original flawed interpretation on the blog as an example of how easy it is to go astray in discussing Renaissance art. I have put the three revisions together and placed them on this site which contains my most significant interpretive discoveries on Giorgione and Titian.

Below are some of the sources that I have used in trying to understand the Doni Tondo.


D’Ancona, Mirella Levi : “The Doni Madonna by Michelangelo: An Iconographic Study.” Reprinted in Michelangelo, Selected Scholarship in English, edited with Introduction by William E. Wallace, New York and London, 1995, V. 1.Life and Early Works, p. 403-412. (numbers in brackets refer to the pages in the Wallace collection).This study first appeared in the Art Bulletin in 1968.


Franceschini, Chiara: “The Nudes in Limbo: Michelangelo’s “Doni Tondo” Revisited”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 73 (2010), pp. 137-180.


Goffen, Rona: Renaissance Rivals. Yale, 2002.


Hayum, Andree: “Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo: Holy Family and Family Myth.” Reprinted in Michelangelo, Selected Scholarship in English, edited with Introduction by William E. Wallace, New York and London, 1995, V. 1.Life and Early Works, p. 417-459. This paper first appeared in Studies in Iconology, 7-8 (1981-2), 209-251.


Olsen, Roberta J. M. : The Florentine Tondo, Oxford, 2000.


Steinberg, Leo: “Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo,” Vogue, December 1974, pp. 138-39.

Verdon, Timothy: Mary in Florentine Art, Firenze, 2003.


Wallace, William ed.: Michelangelo, Selected Scholarship in English, New York and London, 1995. In addition to the articles on the Doni Tondo mentioned above, this three volume collection contains a number of papers on the Sistine Chapel that shed light on the Doni Tondo.


Whitford, David: The Curse of Ham in the Early Modern Era, Ashgate, 2009.

Renaissance Mysteries Solved: Update


In 2010 I created this site as a repository for my re-interpretations of some of the greatest and mysterious works of the Venetian Renaissance.   

First, in 2005 I identified the subject of Giorgione’s “Tempest” as “The Rest of the Holy Family on the Flight into Egypt.” For  500 years this famous painting had eluded identification. Innumerable interpretations have been put forward but all have been shot down. 

Second, I have identified the subject of Giorgione’s so-called “Three Ages of Man” that now hangs in the Pitti Palace as “The Encounter of Jesus with the Rich Young Man.” There has never been any scholarly agreement on the subject of this painting either. 

Third, I have identified Titian’s equally mysterious painting, “Sacred and Profane Love,” as “The Conversion of Mary Magdalen.” Up to now this famous painting that hangs in the Borghese Gallery has also eluded identification. 

Fourth, I have identified the subject of the Louvre’s equally mysterious “Pastoral Concert” as Titian’s “Homage to the Recently Deceased Giorgione,” using the Biblical story of David and Jonathan as a template.

A number of other discoveries have flowed from these new interpretations of the work of Giorgione and Titian. Some can be read on this site, and others at my blog, Giorgione et al http://giorgionetempesta.blogspot.com. 

I presented a shortened version of my paper on Giorgione’s “Tempest” in Venice in 2010 at the annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America. In 2011, I also presented it with some additional material in St. Louis at the annual meeting of the South Central Renaissance conference. In March 2012, I presented a shortened version of the paper on “The Sacred and Profane Love” at the meeting of the South Central Renaissance conference in New Orleans. 


I am not a professional art historian. I hold a PhD in History but left academe some 40 years ago to pursue a career as a financial advisor. Late in my career I developed an interest in Italy and the Renaissance and made my discovery about the “Tempest” only in 2005. A short version of the interpretation appeared in the Masterpiece column of the Wall St. Journal in May, 2006. Otherwise, these papers have never been published in traditional media. 

Note: Because of spammers I plan to limit comments on this site. I will be happy to respond to any legitimate comments via email. I I am also available to offer presentations on the papers presented here.

Dr. Francis P. DeStefano, Fairfield CT