The work is undoubtedly what is considered to be the golden serum of Catholic Italian paintings. I don't mean to suggest that such artwork is less important than others, but I feel that few of them have struck me as a modern viewer whose perspectives are rather secular.
There is a lot that can be learned from these paintings: their fluidity, their technical expertise, their conservation and their historical and cultural significance etc.
Although the work in the Galleria dell'Accademia is set between 16th and 18th Century, one could say that it is still very much relatable as the same orthodox religious values still apply to the modern society.
The man on the left, is MOST DEFINITELY the ancestor of Santa Claus (don't quote me) :P
I would like to argue however, that religious art is becoming more esoteric day-by-day. Take Christian art for example. While the same biblical stories and values are being transcended all over the world through popular culture and highly commercialised celebrations like Christmas and Easter, it is up to the public to decide how they should be interpreted and acted upon.
The Santa Claus look-alike in the earlier painting, is MOST DEFINITELY not (an earlier version of) Santa Claus/St Nicholas/whoever - just because it agrees with the figments of popular culture, I/we easily apply that knowledge to what I/we see. I strongly believe that culture is contextual and relative. My understanding of a religious painting or sculpture is determined by its presence in popular culture... or even, my understanding of RELIGION determined by its presence and impact in popular culture!?!
My argument therefore, is how can we, inhabitants of the 21st Century, grasp an accurate understanding of a painting whose contemporaneous cultural influences we can only imagine.
(Not to forget, many used paintings like a 'textbook' - how differently did people interpret Christianity when it was all that they were exposed to? How differently would the artist have depicted the social climate had they been given the freedom to explore other religious beliefs like in our modern day?)
(Wouldn't this door/corridor fit perfectly in Frozen? Do you want to build a snowman....?)