GhirlandaioHis name was Domenico Bigordi (or Bighordi). Ghirlandaio is a nickname inherited from his father, Tommaso, who was a maker of, or possibly rather a dealer in, the gold and silver garlands (ghirlande) worn by wealthy women. The Bigordi were a family of artisans and small businessmen who lived in the Via dell’Ariento in Florence (near the church of San Lorenzo). Domenico was born in 1448 or 1449. He trained as a goldsmith, and studied painting under Alessio Baldovinetti according to Vasari. Ghirlandaio’s career is obscure at first, but well documented from the mid-1470s.
It is often believed that Ghirlandaio worked briefly as an assistant in Verrocchio’s workshop before setting up on his own. (Indeed, several Madonnas have been controversially ascribed to him as works executed in Verrocchio’s studio.) Frescoes in the Vespucci Chapel of the Ognissanti church in Florence are described by Vasari as his first works and are probably dateable to about 1472. Attributed frescoes in parish churches near Florence at Cercina and San Donnino probably also date from the early 1470s. Ghirlandaio and his brother Davide are documented in Rome in 1475-76 working on the decoration of Sixtus IV’s library in the Vatican. Back in Tuscany in 1476, they painted a fresco of the Last Supper (now heavily repainted) for the Vallombrosan monastery at Passignano, near Florence. Either shortly before or after the visit to Rome, Ghirlandaio frescoed the Chapel of Santa Fina in the Collegiata at San Gimignano. In 1478-79 he is documented in Pisa, and in 1480 painted more frescoes (a St Jerome in his Study on the choir screen and a Last Supper in the refectory) at the Ognissanti. In 1481 he was called back to Rome, where he worked alongside Perugino, Botticelli and Cosimo Rosselli on the decoration of the walls of the Sistine Chapel. Back in Florence again, he executed a heraldic wall painting in the Sala dei Gigli of the Palazzo Vecchio (1482-84).
For the remainder of the 1480s, Ghirlandaio was employed mainly on the decoration of two family chapels in Florentine churches: a cycle of scenes from the Life of St Francis and a fine altarpiece for the Sassetti Chapel in Santa Trinita (about 1483-85) and a vast cycle of scenes from the Life of the Virgin and from the Life of the Baptist in the Gothic choir of Santa Maria Novella (1486-90). These two famous fresco cycles often place the sacred stories in contemporary settings (the streets of Florence or rooms of Florentine palaces) and include portraits of contemporary Florentines (serious citizens, leading intellectuals and well-born young ladies in splendid brocades) among the bystanders. From the early 1490s, there are documented works at Florence, Pisa and Volterra. Ghirlandaio died of the plague on 11 January 1494 and was buried at night in Santa Maria Novella.
Ghirlandaio ran his thriving workshop with the help of his brother Davide (who seems to have been a partner rather than merely an assistant), another brother Benedetto and a brother-in-law Sebastiano Mainardi, and it is often difficult to distinguish his own works from those of his shop. He was not a great innovator. His monumental style, with linear and almost sculptural modelling of body contours and draperies, is in the tradition of Masaccio and Filippo Lippi, while the influence of Flemish art is seen in his realism and love of domestic detail. While he is known chiefly for his frescoes, his panel paintings include several of the best-loved portraits of the Renaissance. His workshop also made and restored mosaics, although few of its works in this medium have survived.
Michelangelo was Ghirlandaio’s apprentice in the late 1480s. Two other pupils, Francesco Granacci and Giuliano Bugiardini, became notable painters, as did his eldest son Ridolfo Ghirlandaio (1483-1561).
Altenburg. Lindenau Museum.
Portrait of a Woman. Wood, 50 x 38.
The sitter, past the first flush of youth and clothed quite simply in a blue-grey dress and white cap, is shown in front of a stone parapet against a landscape of wooded hills, with a lake and blue mountains on the horizon. It is uncertain whether the tiny figures – a woman in front of a farmhouse, a horseman on the winding road, a man with a dog – have some connection with the sitter or are simply decorative. The portrait has been variously attributed to Ghirlandaio and/or his workshop and to Davide Ghirlandaio. It may date from the mid-1480s. Bernard von Lindendau accumulated his remarkable collection of early Italian paintings in Italy in the 1840s.
Judith and her Maid with the Head of Holofernes. Wood, 45 x 31.
The subject, very popular in Renaissance Italy, is from the Old Testament Book of Judith (relegated to the Apocrypha in Protestant Bibles). The Jewish heroine Judith holds the scimitar she used to decapitate the Assyrian general Holofernes. Her maid carries the severed head in a basket on her head. The wall behind the figures is decorated with sculptural reliefs representing sea gods and a battle scene. Dated 1489 on the relief below the window. This small panel is unlikely to have belonged to an altarpiece, and was probably painted simply as a work of art for a cultivated collector. It has been ascribed in the past to Sebastiano Mainardi, to Davide Ghirlandaio or, more generally, to Ghirlandaio’s workshop or school. But it is rated highly by Cadogan (2000) as an ‘autograph small-scale work by the master at the height of his powers’. From the famous Giustiniani collection, which was bought en bloc by the King of Prussia after its sale in Paris in 1812. The decorative frame, with cherubs' heads carved in the corners and at the sides, is unlikely to be original.
Meeting of Christ and the Baptist in the Wilderness. Wood, 33 x 51.
On the Holy Family's journey home from exile in Egypt, the young Jesus meets his young cousin John the Baptist in the wilderness. The episode is not found in the Gospels, but appears in a popular medieval devotional text (known in Latin as the Meditationes Vitae Christi and in English as the Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ). The original purpose of this panel – small for an independent work and large for a predella panel – is uncertain. It is conceivably the ‘piccola tavoletta’ (of unknown subject) mentioned by Vasari as painted by Ghirlandaio for the tomb of Francesca Pitta, wife of Giovanni Tornabuoni, in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva at Rome. Ghirlandaio also painted frescoes (long lost) for the tomb with scenes from the lives of the Virgin and the Baptist. Given to the Berlin Museum by Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1842.
Resurrection of Christ. Wood, 221 x 199.
This was the main panel on the back of the large double-sided altarpiece painted for the choir (Tornabuoni Chapel) of Santa Maria Novella. The altarpiece was unfinished when Domenico Ghirlandaio died, and Vasari says that the Resurrection was completed by his brothers Davide and Benedetto. It was flanked by panels representing the Dominican saints Antoninius and Vincent Ferrer; these were destroyed at Berlin in 1945. The three panels were acquired by the Prussian King, Frederick William III, in 1821 with the vast collection of the English merchant Edward Solly. On the front of the altarpiece, a Madonna in Glory with Saints was flanked by the pair of deacon saints Lawrence and Stephen. These three panels are now divided between Munich and Budapest. The box-like structure also had panels of the Dominican saints Catherine of Siena and Peter Martyr on the two ends. These are now at Munich and Mamiano (Fondazione Magnani-Rocca).
Budapest. Fine Arts Museum.
Saint Stephen. Wood, 191 x 56.
He is dressed as a deacon, holds a martyr's palm, and bears the wounds on his head from his stoning. This was a side panel from the front of the large double-sided altarpiece painted by Ghirlandaio and his studio for the choir of Santa Maria Novella. The altarpiece was finished after Ghirlandaio’s death, and installed in the choir in April1494. After the altarpiece was broken up and sold in 1804, the St Stephen and another panel (now in the Fondazione Magnani-Rocca at Mamiano) of St Peter Martyr were acquired by Lucien Bonaparte. It entered the Budapest Museum in 1914 after passing through a series of French collections. There are other panels from the altarpiece at Munich and Berlin.
Cambridge. Fitzwilliam Museum.
Nativity. Wood, 85 x 63.
In the background, the Magi approach along a winding road (left) and an angel announces the good news to the shepherds (right). One of several versions or variants, it has usually been called the work of a follower of Ghirlandaio (often identified in the past as Sebastiano Mainardi). However, the museum now classes it as by Ghirlandaio himself (following a proposal by Everett Fahy in 1998). Bequeathed in 1912 by Charles Brindsley Marlay (who may have bought it from Colnaghi for £25 as by ‘Fra Lippi’).
Cambridge (Mass.). Fogg Art Museum.
Virgin Annunciate. Detached fresco (mounted on canvas), 147 x 104.
A damaged fragment from an Annunciation; the Angel Gabriel was presumably destroyed when the fresco was detached from its wall. It is said to have come from the Villa Michelozzi (near San Gimignano), and was attributed to Benozzo Gozzoli when acquired for the Fogg collection in 1905. Probably quite early.
Città di Castello. Pinacoteca Comunale.
Coronation of the Virgin. Wood, 240 x 183.
The standing male saints include Francis, Jerome (?), Bernardino, Louis of Toulouse and Anthony of Padua; the kneeling female ones include Elizabeth of Hungary, Catherine of Alexandria and Clare. A reduced version, by Ghirlandaio’s workshop, of the altarpiece at Narni. From the church of Santa Cecilia at Città di Castello; acquired by the Commune in 1872.
Denver. Art Museum.
Coronation of the Virgin. Wood, 109 x 154.
The angels on the left play a lute and tambourine; those on the right a fiddle (lira da braccio) and cymbals. Cut down at the bottom, removing the legs of the standing saints, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. Sometimes identified with an Incoronata for which Ghirlandaio received payments in Pisa in 1478-79. Usually ascribed to the workshop. Sold at Christie’s in 1937 (as by Fiorenzo di Lorenzo); acquired by Kress (through Contini Bonacossi) in 1950.
Detroit. Institute of Arts.
Fall of the Rebel Angels. Wood, 16 x 41.
St Michael and the loyal angels drive Satan and the rebel angels from Heaven (Revelation: 12, 7-9). One of five predella panels from an altarpiece painted for the high altar of San Giusto alle Mura, just outside Florence. The main panel of the altarpiece is now in the Uffizi; three of the other predella panels are in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and one is in the National Gallery, London. The Fall of the Rebel Angels was on the extreme left of the predella, under the figure of St Michael in the main panel. It was acquired by the Detroit Institute in 1925. The five predella panels are usually ascribed to Ghirlandaio's workshop (or to Davide Ghirlandaio).
Portrait of a Young Man. Wood, 33 x 23.
The unidentified man is portrayed bust-length and almost full-face, luxuriant chestnut hair curling under his cap. Fingering the hem of his red tunic, he looks assertively at the viewer. Previously in French private collections, the portrait was acquired around 1931 by Alfred J. Fisher of Detroit, who gave it to the Art Institute in 1953. The portrait has been catalogued by the Art Institute as a work of Domenico Ghirlandaio, but was attributed to Davide Ghirlandaio when exhibited in New York in 2011-12 (The Renaissance Portrait: From Donatello to Bellini). The re-attribution followed an examination of the tempera brushstrokes, which revealed a pattern of left-handed hatching similar to that observed on other paintings attributed to Davide.
Madonna Enthroned with Saints and Angels. Wood, 168 x 197.
The Virgin and Child are enthroned between two angels holding lilies in vases. The four saints are identified by inscriptions along the parapet behind them. Dionysius the Areopagite stands on the left in splendid bishop's regalia; Thomas Aquinas displays his Summa Theologica; Dominic kneels to receive the blessing of the Christ Child; and Clement, with his papal tiara on the ground beside him, turns his head to face the spectator. The picture has been identified with an altarpiece painted in 1483 for the destroyed Clarissan convent of Santa Maria di Monticelli at Florence. However, the presence of Thomas and Dominic suggest that the picture was commissioned by a Dominican house, and it is possibly the panel by Ghirlandaio noted by Vasari (without any description) in the church of San Marco. It was taken from the convent of Sant’Ambrogio to the Accademia in the early nineteenth century, and transferred to the Uffizi in 1919. The predella (the Pietà in the centre between four scenes of the saints’ lives) has been attributed to Bartolomeo di Giovanni – an assistant, or perhaps rather an occasional collaborator, who specialised in small-scale works.
Madonna Enthroned with Saints. Wood, 190 x 200.
Saints Zenobius and Justus kneel before the enthroned Madonna and Child; left and right, the Archangels Michael and Raphael. The Oriental carpets on the throne steps of both Ghirlandaio's altarpieces in the Uffizi have the distinctive medallion design of so-called 'Ghirlandaio carpets'. Painted for the high altar of the church of the Gesuati (San Giusto alle Mura), just outside the city walls at Porta a Pinti. When, in October 1529, the church was razed during the Siege of Florence, the altarpiece was moved with the Gesuati’s other portable treasures to their new church of San Giovannino (later called San Giusto della Calza). By 1828, the predella had been detached from the picture and sold to a dealer; its five panels are now divided between Detroit, London and New York (three). After the Tuscan government had refused to allow the main panel to be sold in 1855 to the London National Gallery, it was bought in 1857 by the Grand Duke for the Uffizi. According to an eighteenth-century source of questionable reliability, the altarpiece was painted in about 1479. It was presumably completed by January 1486, since in a document of that date its frame is referred to as a model for the frame of the Innocenti altarpiece.
Adoration of the Magi. Wood, 171 in dia.
The date, 1487, is on the stone in the foreground. This huge and heavily gilded tondo was probably painted for Giovanni Tornabuoni, the wealthy banker who commissioned the Santa Maria Novella frescoes. It is recorded in an inventory of Tornabuoni possessions drawn up in 1497, after Giovanni’s death and the execution of his heir Lorenzo (beheaded for his role in a pro-Medici plot). It hung in a 'beautiful' bedchamber, which was decorated with spalliere wall panels and furnished with cassoni and a bed finished in silver and gold. Vasari mentions the tondo in the house of Giovanni di Lorenzo Tornabuoni, Giovanni’s grandson. It entered the Uffizi in 1780 from the Reale Guardaroba. The surface is pitted; German soldiers are said to have used it as a table during the Second World War. There is a workshop replica at the Pitti Palace.
Adoration of the Magi, Wood, 100 in dia.
A reduced version, by Ghirlandaio’s workshop, of the tondo in the Uffizi. It repeats the central group but omits the rest of the spectators and the classical ruins. From the oratory of the Orbatello hospital; transferred to the Uffizi by 1839.
Saints Stephen, James and Peter. Wood, 175 x 174.
The three saints stand in front of richly decorated Renaissance niches. Stephen, the deacon saint, holds a book and martyr's palm; St James has his pilgrim's staff and St Peter holds the keys to heaven. The picture was the altarpiece of the chapel of Stefano di Piero di Jacopo Boni in the church of Cestello (now Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi). The chapel, built in 1493, was fourth on the right. The three saints depicted are the name saints of the patron and his father and grandfather. In the early sixteenth century the picture was transferred to the chapel of St Jerome and the central figure of Stephen was overpainted by one of Jerome. The original St Stephen was uncovered by cleaning after the panel was taken to the Accademia in 1865. Often ascribed to Sebastiano Mainardi in the past, but more recently reattributed to Ghirlandaio himself as a late work. Restored in 2014.
Visitation. Wood, 32 x 34.
St Anne stands on the left; in the centre background St Francis receives the Stigmata; and on the right the Baptist departs for the wilderness. The original location of this little panel, which possibly belonged to a predella, is unknown. It came to the Accademia when the Dominican convent of the Crocetta was closed. Once ascribed to Jacopo del Sellaio, it was attributed to Ghirlandaio, as a very early work, in 1933 by Berenson (in the journal L’Arte). The attribution has been accepted (for example) by Jean Cadogan in her 2000 monograph. The main alternative attribution (preferred by the museum) has been to the young Perugino.
Florence. Palazzo Vecchio. Sala dei Gigli.
Triumph of St Zenobius; Famous Men from Ancient Rome. Frescoes.
The decision to renovate the Sala Magna Superiore (now Sala dei Gigli) and several other rooms of the Palazzo Vecchio was taken in 1469, and the architectural work and carpentry (by Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano among others) seems to have been completed by end-1480. The contract for painting the walls was drawn up on 5 October 1482. It named Perugino (soon replaced by Filippino Lippi), Botticelli and Piero Pollaiuolo, as well as Ghirlandaio. Each painter appears to have been allocated one wall, but only Ghirlandaio’s – on the east side next to the Customs Office – was executed. (The three undecorated walls were adorned in 1490 with a pattern of gold lilies against a blue background.)
The grandiose painted architectural framework creates the illusion of a great classical loggia with three arches. The frescoed altarpiece in the centre shows St Zenobius, with mitre and crosier, enthroned between the deacon saints Eugenius and Crescentius (often called Lawrence and Stephen) and guarded by a pair of lions holding huge red and white banners of the City and Commune. A fictive bas-relief of the Madonna and Child with two Adoring Angels is in the lunette above, and to the left of the throne is a distant view of Florence Cathedral, Campanile and Baptistery. Ghirlandaio was paid 60 florins for the frescoed altarpiece, which was finished by 18 April 1483. The bottom right corner was destroyed in 1589 when the centre door was built to provide access to the Sala del Mappamondo.
The frescoes in the archways high over the doors (originally windows) on either side show trios of Roman republican heroes – Brutus (with bloody dagger), Mucius Scaevola (holding his hand in the fire) and Furius Camillus on the left, and Decius Mus, Scipio Africanus and Cicero (with lictor’s staff) on the right. The painted medallions in the spandrels contain profile portraits of five Roman emperors (Hadrian, Caligula, Vespasian, Nero and Antoninus Pius) and an empress (Faustina?). Ghirlandaio continued to receive payments from the superintendents of the Palazzo Vecchio until 7 April 1484. It is often supposed that much of the execution was by assistants (Davide and Benedetto Ghirlandaio?); but there are no documents to prove this and the execution appears to be of uniformly high quality.
Florence. Museo di San Marco. Small Refectory.
Last Supper. Fresco, 420 x 780.
Almost a replica of the fresco of 1480 in the monastery of the Ognissanti, and probably painted a few years later. There are differences of detail. Perhaps the most obvious is the introduction of a cat (a symbol of evil) next to Judas. The execution seems to have been quite rapid, and several assistants were probably involved. Cleaned in 1994-95, when some repainting in oil was removed.
Florence. Museo dello Spedale degli Innocenti.
Adoration of the Magi. Wood, 280 x 240.
Two infant martyrs, under the protection of John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, kneel with two of the Magi before the Madonna and Child. The three richly dressed men standing behind on the right are probably officers of the Arte della Seta (Guild of Silk Workers), which founded the Spedale degli Innocenti and helped to finance it. Behind the third and youngest Magus are probable portraits of Francesco di Giovanni Tesori, prior of the Innocenti, and of Ghirlandaio himself. In the fields behind is the Massacre of the Innocents. This episode was attributed by Berenson in 1903 to ‘Alunno di Domenico’, later identified as Bartolomeo di Giovanni, who was also responsible for the predella. Several famous ancient Roman monuments, including the Colosseum, pyramid of Cestius and Trajan's column, appear among the buildings of the walled city. Four angels hovering over the stable display a scroll with the opening words and notes of the Gloria. In the right distance, an angel brings the Good News to the shepherds. The picture is one of Ghirlandaio's finest altarpieces. It was commissioned for the high altar of the church of the Innocenti on 23 October 1485, but not completed until 1489. (On top of the arch on the left is the date 1488.) Ghirlandaio was paid 122 florins. The elaborate frame, commissioned from Antonio da Sangallo and costing 183 florins, was probably destroyed in 1786 when the church was renovated. The picture was transferred to the Innocenti Museum in 1917. It is in beautiful condition. The six scenes in the predella are: the Martyrdom of St John the Evangelist; Annunciation; Marriage of the Virgin; Deposition from the Cross; Presentation in the Temple; Baptism of Christ; and the Consecration of the Church of the Innocenti.
Florence. Duomo. Porta della Mandorla.
The mosaic is in the lunette beneath Nanni di Banco’s Assumption. Described by Vasari, who says that ‘Domenico used to say that painting was mere drawing and that painting for eternity was mosaic’. Payments for the work are recorded from 18 December 1489 to 8 January 1491. Although doubtless designed by him, it is not known whether the mosaic (which has been restored several times) was executed by Domenico himself, by Davide or by some other assistant. The angel is similar to the one in Leonardo’s Annunciation from Monte Oliveto (now in the Uffizi).
Misericordia; Pietà. Frescoes (second altar on right).
Commissioned for the mortuary chapel of Amerigo Vespucci. (The sepulchral slab on the pavement to the left of the altar bears Amerigo’s name and the date 1471, but early sources give his date of death as 1472.) Vasari describes the frescoes as Ghirlandaio’s earliest paintings. They were whitewashed in 1616, and brought to light again in 1898 behind a painting by Matteo Rosselli. They are in poor condition, fragmentary and abraded; they were detached and restored in 1966, and restored again in 1998-99. The Vespucci family group, sheltered by the Virgin’s cloak in the Misericordia, is said by Vasari to include Amerigo the explorer, grandson of the chapel’s patron (sometimes identified as the dark-haired youth to the left of the Virgin). Most critics have accepted the attribution of the Misericordia fresco, but the Pietà is sometimes ascribed to Ghirlandaio’s shop or to Davide Ghirlandaio.
Saint Jerome in his Study. Fresco, 184 x 119.
Between the third and fourth altars on the left. Painted in 1480 (it is dated on the bench) for the Vespucci family. It originally decorated the screen of the monks’ choir. The St Jerome and its pendant, St Augustine by Botticelli, were moved to the walls of the nave in 1564-66 when the screen was removed. After the 1966 flood damaged the bottom part, the fresco was detached and cleaned. It shows strong Flemish influence, and it has been suggested that the composition may have been influenced by a small St Jerome in his Study by van Eyck, now lost but known to have been in the Medici collection in the fifteenth century.
Last Supper. Fresco in the refectory, 400 x 880.
The fresco is rich in symbolic detail. The birds in the sky in the two lunettes (a pheasant and a quail, larks and goldfinches, and sparrowhawk attacking a duck) and the peacock perched in the window on the right allude to Christ’s Passion. Palms are associated with martyrdom and cypress trees with mourning, while citrus trees can represent bitterness, purity or Paradise. The foods on the table are also likely to have been chosen for their symbolic meaning. As well as bread and wine, there are cherries (a common symbol of Christ's blood), slices of lamb (an obvious allusion to Christ's sacrifice), lettuce leaves (which can allude to sacrifice or repentance), oranges and apricots. Beneath Christ’s feet is the date: 1480. The general lines of the composition and the attitudes of some of the apostles recall Castagno’s fresco of 1447 in Sant’Apollonia. The head of Christ, now rather abraded, was redone in the seventeenth century by Carlo Dolci and repainted again by the restorer Gaetano Bianchi (1876). The fresco was detached from the wall for restoration in October 1966 – just two weeks before flood waters inundated the refectory. The sinopia, revealed beneath, is now exhibited on the left wall. The fresco was restored again in 1998-2000. It is considered the finest of Ghirlandaio’s three surviving Last Suppers. The others are in the convent of San Marco and at Badia a Passignano (Val di Pesa, near Florence). Another Last Supper, by Domenico and Davide, was painted for San Donato in Polverosa and destroyed in 1530.
Florence. Santa Croce. Right Transept. Baroncelli Chapel.
Assumption of the Virgin ('Madonna della Cintola'). Fresco.
God the Father, with the dove of the Holy Spirit, welcomes the Virgin, as she rises to heaven surrounded by angels. She lowers her girdle towards St Thomas, who kneels in prayer beside her tomb, which has filled with flowers. Vasari, in the 1568 edition of the Lives, says that this fresco was painted by Sebastiano Mainardi from Ghirlandaio’s cartoon. The attribution has been generally accepted, though Albertini, writing fifty-eight years before, ascribes the fresco to Ghirlandaio without mentioning Mainardi. Restored in 2006.
Florence. Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi. Tornabuoni Chapel (4th left).
Saint Lawrence. Stained glass window, 200 x 70.
The window was commissioned by Lorenzo di Giovanni Tornabuoni from the glass-worker Alessandro Fiorentino (di Giovanni Agolanti), who also executed the stained glass for the Tornabuoni Chapel in Santa Maria Novella. Although the documents do not mention Ghirlandaio, it is plausible to assume that he was responsible for the design. The altarpiece of the Visitation, painted for the chapel by Ghirlandaio and his workshop in 1491, is now in the Louvre.
Florence. Santa Maria Novella. Choir.
Lives of the Baptist and the Virgin. Frescoes.
The commission to paint the choir, originally frescoed by Orcagna, was given to Domenico and Davide Ghirlandaio on 1 September 1485 by the wealthy banker Giovanni Tornabuoni, Lorenzo de’ Medici’s uncle, who is described in the contract as ‘magnificent and noble … citizen and merchant of Florence’. The contract stipulated the scenes and saints to be represented, the architectural framework for the scenes, the pigments and gold to be used, the technique (traditional buon fresco) and even the incidental detail to be included (‘figures, buildings, castles, cities, villas, mountains, hills, plains, water, rocks, costumes, animals, birds and beasts’). The vast task (covering some 550 square metres of wall) was to be carried out between May 1486 and May 1490 for 1,100 large gold ducats. While the whole Ghirlandaio workshop was doubtless employed on the project, the most important parts were probably executed by Domenico and Davide, and perhaps one or two trusted assistants. (Attempts to identify the contribution of the adolescent Michelangelo seem to have failed.) The execution tends to be hastier in the upper scenes (with fewer giornate). The work was finished in December 1490 – just six months after the contractual deadline.
The frescoes, which were restored in 1983-1991, are remarkably complete and well preserved. The scenes are in four courses on the three walls. Those on the left wall narrate the Life of the Virgin: Death and Assumption of the Virgin (in the lunette); the damaged Adoration of the Magi (with the curious detail of a giraffe on the hill in the upper right corner) and grisly Massacre of the Innocents (praised by Vasari as the finest picture in the entire cycle); Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple and Marriage of the Virgin; Joachim’s Expulsion from the Temple and the Birth of the Virgin (with the artist’s surname ‘Bighordi’ and nickname ‘Grillandai’ inscribed in gold lettering on the wood panelling behind the bed). The scenes on the right wall narrate the Life of the Baptist: Dance of Salome (in the lunette); Baptism of Christ and the Sermon in the Desert; Zachariah naming the Child and the Birth of the Baptist (with the famous figure, adapted from Filippo Lippi’s tondo in the Pitti Palace, of a woman dancing into the room with a basket of fruit on her head); the Visitation and the Angel appearing to Zachariah (with no less than twenty-one portraits of contemporaries). On the end wall: Coronation of the Virgin (in the lunette); St Dominic burns the Heretical Books (left of window) and Death of Peter Martyr (right of window); the Annunciation and the Baptist departing for the Desert; and portraits of Giovanni Tornabuoni and his wife Francesca Pitti (who had died ten years earlier in childbirth) kneeling in prayer on either side of the high altar. In the ceiling are the Four Evangelists.
The narrative scenes contain a great number of portraits, but comparatively few of the people portrayed can be positively identified. According to Vasari, Ghirlandaio included himself in the scene of Joachim’s Expulsion from the Temple (on the right with one hand across his chest and the other on his hip) with his brother Davide (with his back turned), Sebastiano Mainardi (possibly rather a portrait of Ghirlandaio’s other brother Benedetto) and the elderly Alessio Baldovinetti (possibly rather a portrait of Ghirlandaio’s father). In the lower left corner of the scene of the Angel appearing to Zachariah, four leading intellectuals are shown in philosophical discussion – the humanist philosopher Marsilio Ficinio, the Dante commentator Cristofano Landino, the Latin scholar and poet Angelo Poliziano, and either the Greek scholar Demetrius Chalcondyles or the poet and orator Gentile de’ Becchi. Other probable portraits include Giovanni Tornabuoni’s sister Lucrezia Tornabuoni (the oldest and last of the three noble ladies visiting St Elizabeth in the Birth of the Baptist), Giovanni’s son and heir Lorenzo Tornabuoni (standing confidently on the left of Joachim’s Expulsion with his hand on his hip), Giovanni’s young daughter Ludovica (shown in profile making a stately visit to St Anne in the Birth of the Virgin), and Lorenzo Tornabuoni’s young (and probably recently deceased) wife Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni (shown in profile watching the scene of the Visitation).
Ghirlandaio also designed the stained glass windows, which were executed by Alessandro Fiorentino (di Giovanni Agolanti) in 1491. The centre light contains three scenes: Assumption of the Virgin, Presentation in the Temple and Miracle of the Snow.
The great double-sided altarpiece, which was commissioned from Ghirlandaio but not installed until after his death, was broken up in 1804 and sold. The surviving panels are dispersed between the Munich and Budapest galleries and the Fondazione Magnani-Rocca at Mamiano.
Florence. San Martino del Vescovo (or dei Buonomini).
Ten frescoed lunettes. Each, 150 x 180.
The walls of the little oratory are decorated with eight charming scenes of the charitable works of the Dodici Buonomini (Twelve Good Men) and two scenes from the life of St Martin (his dividing his cloak with a beggar and his dream of Christ wearing the cloak). The frescoes probably date from about 1478-79, when the chapel was renovated. Ignored by Vasari and other early writers, they were ascribed in the nineteenth century to Filippino Lippi or his pupil Raffaellino del Garbo. Since the 1930s, they have been generally attributed to Ghirlandaio’s workshop. Several different hands (including Davide Ghirlandaio’s) have been detected. The Buonomini are known to have provided dowries for girls in Ghirlandaio’s family.
Florence. Santa Trinita. Sassetti Chapel.
Life of St Francis. Frescoes.
Francesco Sassetti, manager of the Medici bank, acquired the chapel in 1478-79 and had it renovated as a family burial chapel, dedicated to St Francis (his patron saint) and the Nativity. It is not known precisely when Ghirlandaio started painting in the chapel, but the work was probably largely done in 1483-85.
The Life of St Francis is narrated in six large scenes. The less visible frescoes in the two side lunettes appear to have been executed in considerable part by assistants. The scene of the Renunciation of Worldly Goods (left wall) is set outside a walled lakeside city – believed to be Geneva, where Sassetti had run a trading office. The Ordeal by Fire before the Sultan (right lunette) is modelled on Giotto’s fresco, painted some 150 years earlier, in the Bardi Chapel of Santa Croce.
The scene of St Francis receiving the Stigmata (lower left wall) includes a realistic depiction of the monastery founded by the saint at La Verna (where the miracle occurred) on its curiously shaped outcrop of rock, and also shows the city of Pisa (with its Cathedral and Leaning Tower) in the right distance. The Death of St Francis (lower right wall) is again based on Giotto’s composition at Santa Croce.
The two famous frescoes are on the end wall. The scene of the Confirmation of the Franciscan Rule (in the lunette) is set in the Piazza della Signoria, with the Palazzo Vecchio visible on the left and the Loggia della Signoria in the centre. In the foreground, the tutor Angelo Poliziano leads the three sons of Lorenzo de’ Medici – Piero, the eldest, Giuliano and Giovanni, the future Pope Leo X – up a stairway towards their father, who is standing in a group with the elderly Antonio Pucci, Francesco Sassetti and Sassetti’s son Federigo. The three young men on the other side of the stairway are probably Sassetti’s older sons (Teodoro the elder, who had died in 1479, Galeazzo and Cosimo). The scene of St Francis restoring the Roman Notary’s Son to Life (over the altar) takes place in the Piazza Santa Trinita, outside the church (which is shown on the right with its original Romanesque façade). In the background to the left, a little boy can be seen falling out of the window of the fortress-like Palazzo Spini-Ferroni. The young women on the left are probably Sassetti’s five daughters, and the resuscitated child may be a portrait of the younger Teodoro Sassetti (born in 1479 shortly after the death of his older brother). The two men at the right edge have been supposed to be self-portraits of Ghirlandaio (with left arm akimbo) and his brother Davide or brother-in-law Sebastiano Mainardi (in profile). At the sides of the altar, the donor Francesco Sassetti and his wife Nera di Piero Corsi are portrayed in profile, kneeling in prayer, against a simulated marble background. Beneath the portraits is the incomplete date [2?]5 December 148[5?] in Roman numerals.
Four Sibyls are frescoed on the ceiling. (The Eiritraean, Agrippan and Cumaean Sibyls are identified by inscriptions on the scrolls they are holding; the fourth may be the Cimmerian Sibyl.) The abraded fresco on the outer arch of the chapel of the Tiburtine Sibyl predicting the Coming of Christ was whitewashed over in the eighteenth century and uncovered in 1896. On top of the pilaster outside the chapel on the left is a monochrome figure of David, standing on a pedestal and holding a shield with the Sassetti arms.
The frescoes were restored in 1967-68, after the disastrous flood, and again in 2004-5, after rainwater had penetrated the church roof.
Adoration of the Shepherds. Wood, 167 x 167.
On the far left, the Magi are seen approaching, winding through the landscape and passing through a triumphal arch, while an angel brings the good news to the shepherds on the hillside above. One of Ghirlandaio’s masterpieces, in perfect condition, and the original altarpiece of the Sassetti Chapel, replaced in situ in the 1920s after a hundred years in the Accademia. Dated 1485 on one of the Corinthian columns supporting the roof of the stable. A number of elements are loosely borrowed from the Portinari Altarpiece – most clearly the group of shepherds, but also the ox and ass, the bundle of hay and the flowers in the foreground, and the winter landscape. (Hugo van der Goes’ great triptych, now in the Uffizi, had been installed in the Florentine hospital church of Sant’Egidio just two years earlier in 1483.) The large stone in front of the Child may allude to Sassetti’s name (‘little stones’); the goldfinch perching on it is a traditional symbol of the Passion. Ghirlandaio may have portrayed himself as the youngest of the shepherds, gesturing towards the Christ Child. The triumphal arch (as stated by the inscription) is that erected by the Jewish High Priest Hyrcanus in honour of Pompey the Great, who spared the temple at Jerusalem when he conquered the city. The use of a sarcophagus as a manger is an obvious allusion to Christ's death. The inscription on it quotes a prophecy by a certain Fulvius, Pompey's auger or soothsayer, who 'falling under the sword before Jerusalem' proclaimed that 'the urn which contains me will produce a god'.
Florence (Badia a Passignano). San Michele e Biagio.
Last Supper. Fresco, 350 x 1030.
Badia a Passignano, in the Val di Pesa, is some 30 km south of Florence. The life-size fresco, in the refectory of the Vallombrosan monastery, is the earliest of Ghirlandaio’s three surviving Last Suppers; the others are both in Florence – in the Ognissanti and in San Marco. It was commissioned by Abbot Don Isidoro del Sere, and was painted by Domenico and Davide Ghirlandaio between 25 June and 1 September 1476. They were paid 105 lire, 13 soldi and 4 denari. Vasari recounts that Davide was so angered by the poor food they were given that he flung the soup over the head of the monk who had prepared the meal and battered him senseless with a loaf of bread. As in Castagno’s famous fresco of 1447 in Sant’Apollonia, the scene takes place in a wide room with a low-beamed ceiling. Judas, a bulging moneybag hanging from his belt, is isolated on the near side of the table. The fresco was heavily repainted, probably in the nineteenth century. The old repaint was removed in a recent restoration, which started in 2002 but was not completed until 2015.
The scenes of the Expulsion from Paradise and Cain and Abel in the large lunettes above the fresco were painted by Bernardo di Stefano Rosselli (a cousin of Cosimo Rosselli and pupil of Neri di Bicci). Damaged frescoes of the Annunciation and Ecce Home in the Chapter House are probably by Davide alone.
Florence (Cercina). Pieve di Sant’Andrea.
Three Saints. Fresco.
The tiny Romanesque church of Cercina is on the outskirts of Florence, north of Careggi. Ghirlandaio’s family owned a house and land nearby. The fresco is in the rounded apse at the end of the right aisle. The three saints are shown in fictive niches, separated by painted Corinthian pilasters. In the centre, St Barbara holds a tower and stands on the body of her pagan father Dioscorus (who had been struck dead by lightning after persecuting her for her conversion to Christianity). The penitent St Jerome stands on the left wearing a tattered robe and holding a stone to beat his breast. St Anthony Abbot stands on the right wearing the black habit of the Order of Hospitallers and grasping his T-shaped staff. The fresco, which was walled up in the seventeenth century and uncovered only in 1923, is rather damaged (with many cracks and losses of pigment). It is regarded as one of Ghirlandaio’s earliest works (early 1470s).
Florence (San Donnino). Sant’Andrea a Brozzi.
Madonna with SS. Sebastian and Julian. Fresco.
San Donnino is 9 km from the centre of Florence on the road to Poggio a Caiano. The fresco is unrecorded in early sources. It has been attributed to Ghirlandaio, on stylistic grounds, as perhaps his earliest independent work (late 1460s or early 1470s). The enthroned Madonna and flanking saints (Sebastian holding arrows and Julian a sword) are shown on a terrace, high above a river valley. The framing pilasters are similar to those in Ghirlandaio’s early fresco at Cercina. The Madonna, with the Child standing on her knee blessing, is of a type associated with Verrocchio. The Baptism in the lunette above (sometimes ascribed to Davide) resembles the famous picture by Verrocchio in the Uffizi, but is even more closely related in composition to an earlier niello engraving in the Louvre attributed to Maso Fingiuerre. The frescoes were restored in 1967 after flood damage (the Baptism being detached from the wall and mounted on canvas), and cleaned in 1987 after a fire.
Lisbon. Gulbenkian Museum.
Portrait of a Young Woman. Wood, 44 x 32.
This charming little portrait shows the young sitter bust-length and three-quarter face, looking out to her right. Her coiffure (the hair, parted in the centre, combed back at the top and falling in curls at the sides of the face) and costume (tight bodice, small white cap and necklace of coral beads) was fashionable in Florence around 1485-90. Previously (1860-1929) in the Spiridon collection in Paris; acquired by Calouste Gulbenkian through Duveen.
London. National Gallery.
Virgin and Child (no. 3937). Wood, 89 x 58.
The Child stands on a cushion placed on a parapet covered by a carpet. One end of a long transparent silk scarf is draped over his arm and the other end is held by the Virgin. The dark border of the painting is treated as a window, through which is viewed a lake and distant mountains. The composition is repeated in the central part of an altarpiece by Ghirlandaio (or his studio) at Pisa. Often ascribed in the past to Mainardi or Ghirlandaio’s studio, but now generally accepted as by Ghirlandaio himself. It probably dates from the 1480s. Once in the collection of Sir Charles Eastlake, it was bequeathed by Ludwig Mond in 1924. The panel is well preserved. It had been cut down at the top, but was recently restored to its original arched shape.
A Legend of SS. Justus and Clement of Volterra. Wood, 14 x 39.
Justus, with Clement behind him, distributes bread to soldiers during the siege of Volterra by the Vandals. One of the predella panels to the altarpiece painted for San Giusto alle Mura, outside Florence. The main panel is now in the Uffizi. Three of the other predella panels are in New York, another in Detroit. The London panel was bequeathed by Lady Lindsay in 1912. The execution is sometimes ascribed to an assistant (or Davide Ghirlandaio).
Portrait of a Young Man in Red. Wood, 39 x 28.
This well-preserved portrait probably dates from the 1480s. It is now exhibited as a work of Ghirlandaio himself, but has also been ascribed to his studio, Sebastiano Mainardi, Davide Ghirlandaio and the young Francesco Granacci. From the Barberini collection, Rome (where it was described as a self-portrait by Masaccio). Bequeathed by Sir George Salting in 1910.
Portrait of a Young Woman. Wood, 44 x 29.
Nothing is known of the early history of this attractive little portrait, which was acquired in 1887 at the sale of James Whatmore of Maidstone. Attributed in the past to Ghirlandaio himself by some writers and to Sebastiano Mainardi by others, it is now catalogued as a work of Ghirlandaio’s studio. To judge by the hairstyle and costume, it may date from towards 1490. In good condition, but enlarged by additional strips at the sides.
Portrait of Costanza Caetani. Wood, 57 x 38.
The paint surface is conspicuously damaged by wide cracks. The sitter, identified by the inscription, was born around 1469 and married by 1489 (the flowers she is holding and the jewels on the parapet may allude to her betrothal). The portrait, traditionally ascribed to Botticelli, came from the castle of Castelfalfi near Montajone (west of Florence), which had belonged to Costanza’s husband (Averardo di Bernardo de’ Medici). It was sold from there in about 1890 to the famous antiquarian and dealer Stefano Bardini. It entered the National Gallery in 1895 (first on loan and then permanently with the bequest of George Salting) as a work of Ghirlandaio. The attribution retained support for many years (eg. in Berenson’s Lists), though doubt was expressed as early as 1910 (when Claude Phillips published an attribution to Lorenzo di Credi in the Burlington Magazine). An attribution to Fra Bartolommeo, as a youthful work, was made by Everett Fahy in the 1969 Art Bulletin, and was accepted for a time in the official catalogue. The portrait is currently labelled simply under ‘Style of Ghirlandaio’.
Virgin and Child with St John (no. 2502). Wood, 79 x 47.
Monuments of Rome – including the Colosseum, Arch of Constantine, Pantheon and Castel Sant’Angelo – are shown in the background. Attributed formerly to Sebastiano Mainardi and now to Davide Ghirlandaio. (The attribution to Davide is supported by evidence, from the angle of the tempera brushstrokes, that the painter was left-handed.) Damaged by overcleaning, the face of St John being particularly abraded. First recorded in 1835 in an aristocratic collection in Rome and later owned by Lord Dudley, it was bequeathed to the National Gallery in 1910 by George Salting.
Lucca. Duomo (San Martino). Sacristy.
Madonna Enthroned with Four Saints. Wood, 170 x 160.
St Peter (with large gold key) and St Clement (in a papal tiara) on the left; St Paul (with sword) and St Sebastian (with arrow) on the right. Mentioned by Vasari, and usually considered a fully autograph early work (middle or late 1470s?). Restoration conceals many paint losses, especially along the vertical joins in the panel and on the gold curtain. The lunette, showing the Dead Christ, is not by Ghirlandaio and has been ascribed to a follower of Filippino Lippi. The scenes in the predella (Martyrdom of St Clement, thrown into the sea by order of Trajan; Liberation of Peter; Pietà; Martyrdom of Sebastian; and Conversion of Paul) have been ascribed to Bartolomeo di Giovanni.
Madrid. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni. Wood, 77 x 49.
The beautiful young woman is posed in pure profile, slender and erect. Her fair hair is fashionably dressed, drawn back in a chignon and crimped at the side of her face, and she wears a luxurious gown of gold brocade over a silk dress with bright orange sleeves criss-crossed with trimmings and embroidered with tiny flowers. The niche behind her contains a book of hours in the bottom right corner, a large jewelled gold broach or pendant (like the one she wears round her neck) in the bottom left corner, and a string of coral beads hanging in the top right corner. The piece of paper posted on the wall is inscribed with an epigram adapted from one by the Roman poet Martial (‘Art, if only you could portray character and soul, there would be no more beautiful picture on earth’) and the date 1488. The same young woman appears – full-length but with exactly the same profile pose and wearing a similar costume – in the scene of the Visitation in Ghirlandaio’s fresco cycle in the choir of Santa Maria Novella. It has been argued from the somewhat arbitrary truncation, at the left edge and bottom, of the hands holding the handkerchief that the portrait was based on the fresco rather than vice versa. The young woman is identified as Giovanna Tornabuoni from a portrait medal attributed to Niccolò di Forzore Spinelli, called Niccolò Fiorentino. Giovanna, daughter of Maso degli Albizzi, was born on 18 December 1468 and married Lorenzo di Giovanni Tornabuoni on 5 June 1486. It was Lorenzo’s father Giovanni who commissioned the Santa Maria Novella frescoes. Giovanna died – it is believed in childbirth – on 7 October 1488, and the date on the portrait probably refers to the year of her death rather than the date of the portrait, which could have been painted a year or two later. A 1497 inventory of the contents of the Tornabuoni palazzo records the portrait as hanging next to Lorenzo's room. From the Tornabuoni, the portrait is said to have passed in the seventeenth century to the Pandolfini family. It came, via Paris, to England, where it was owned by Henry Willets of Brighton (a friend of Ruskin, who loaned it to the National Gallery from 1888 to 1896). It later belonged to Rodolphe Kann of Paris and J. Pierpont Morgan of New York. Acquired by Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza at auction in 1935. It is almost perfectly preserved.
Mamiano (near Parma). Fondazione Magnani-Rocca.
Saint Peter Martyr. Wood, 191 x 56.
The Dominican saint is identified by his martyr's palm and the wound in his skull. A panel from the double-sided high altarpiece painted by Ghirlandaio and his workshop for Santa Maria Novella. It was on one of the two ends of the box-like structure. Other surviving panels from the altarpiece are in Munich, Berlin and Budapest. Until 1969, the St Peter Martyr was in the collection of Prince Mario Ruspoli at the Villa Imperialino, Florence.
Munich. Alte Pinakothek.
Madonna in Glory with Saints. Wood, 221 x 198.
The Virgin appears to St Michael and St John the Baptist (standing) and St Dominic and St John the Evangelist (kneeling). This was the centre panel of the front of the altarpiece commissioned by Giovanni Tornabuoni for his chapel in the choir of Santa Maria Novella. Giovanni left the huge sum of 500 gold florins for the altarpiece in his will of March 1490. The altarpiece was installed in April 1494, three months after Ghirlandaio’s death. After the altar was dismantled in 1804, this panel and two lateral panels of St Lawrence (from the front) and St Catherine of Siena (from one of the ends), which are also in the Munich Gallery, were acquired by Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria. The panels from the back of the altarpiece, a Resurrection between the Dominican saints Vincent Ferrer and Antoninus, which Vasari says were finished by Davide and Benedetto Ghirlandaio, entered the Berlin Museum via the Solly collection. The Vincent Ferrer and Antoninius were destroyed in the Second World War. Two other panels of standing saints are preserved at Budapest and in the Fondazione Magnani-Rocca at Mamiano. The altarpiece also had a predella. One panel from this (representing the Disputation of Saint Stephen and attributed by Vasari to an assistant called Niccolò Cieco) is now at Wawel Castle in Krakow. The frame, carved by Baccio d’Agnolo, is lost.
Narni. Palazzo Comunale.
Coronation of the Virgin. Wood, 330 x 230.
In heaven, Christ crowns his mother under a canopy held up by two angels. The canopy is tooled into the gold background, as is the impressive sunburst behind the figures. Old Testament Prophets kneel among the host of angels. On the earth below, St Francis kneels in the middle of a large circle of other saints. The six saints in the foreground, kneeling with their backs to us, are recognisable as John the Evangelist, Louis of Toulouse, Bonaventure, Jerome, Anthony of Padua and Lawrence. The altarpiece is Ghirlandaio’s largest panel painting. The upper part resembles Fra Angelico’s Coronation, originally in Sant’Egidio and now in the Uffizi. In the predella: the Pietà, St Francis receiving the Stigmata and St Jerome in the Desert. From the high altar of the Franciscan church of San Girolamo ai Frati at Narni. Commissioned by October 1484 and finished by 3 June 1486. Transferred to the Palazzo Comunale in 1871. The execution appears to have been in good part by assistants (perhaps particularly Davide Ghirlandaio). The predella has been ascribed to Bartolomeo di Giovanni.
The painting became a prototype of altarpieces of the Coronation of the Virgin commissioned by other Franciscan churches and convents in Umbria. Coronations painted by Ghirlandaio's workshop at Città di Castello (around 1486), by Raphael and his workshop for the Poor Clares of Santa Maria di Monteluce at Perugia (1505-25), by Lo Spagna for the Observant Franciscans of Montesanto at Todi (1507) and for San Martino at Trevi (1522), and by Lo Spagna's pupil Jacopo Siculo for the Franciscan convent of the Annunziata at Norcia (1541) all derive, to a greater or lesser extent, from Ghirlandaio's Narni altarpiece.
New Haven. Yale University Art Gallery.
Portrait of a Lady. Fresco, 50 x 37.
A fragment from an unknown fresco. It was once thought, on the basis of a resemblance to portrait heads in the frescoes at Santa Maria Novella, to represent a lady of the Tornabuoni family, but there is no evidence for this. Acquired by Yale University in 1871 with the collection assembled in Florence by James J. Jarves.
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
Francesco Sassetti and His Son. Wood, 75 x 52.
Francesco Sassetti was the banker in the Medici circle who commissioned Ghirlandaio to paint the famous frescoes in Santa Trinita. A Latin inscription (not original) along the top of the picture gives his name and that of his son Teodoro. Teodoro could be either a posthumous portrait of Francesco’s first son of this name (who died in 1479) or a portrait of his second son of this name (who was born in 1479). The face of Francesco has been heavily repainted, but that of the child is well preserved. The landscape background is a simplified version of that in Ghirlandaio's fresco in Santa Trinita of St Francis renouncing his Earthly Goods; the city on the lake has been identified as Geneva, where Sassetti worked in the Medici bank. Sassetti could have had the portrait painted in 1488, before travelling to France at the age of sixty-eight to resolve difficulties at the Lyon bank. Another possibility is that the portrait – like Ghirlandaio's famous Old Man and His Grandson at the Louvre – is posthumous. Sassetti died of a stroke in March 1490. The portrait is unrecorded before 1875, when it was loaned by the Scottish collector William Graham to the Royal Academy’s Winter Exhibition. Later (1893-1927) in the Benson collection. Bought by Jules Bache (on Berenson’s recommendation and after extensive restoration) from Duveen for the huge price of $350,000. Bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum in 1949.
Three Predella Panels. Wood, each 16 x 41.
The scenes are the Marriage of the Virgin (which was in the centre of the predella) and the Burial of St Zenobius and Tobias and the Angel (which were on the right). The two panels from the left of the predella are in Detroit (the Fall of the Rebel Angels) and London (St Justus distributing Bread). The predella belonged to the high altarpiece from San Giusto alle Mura, the main panel of which is now in the Uffizi. The predella had been detached from the altarpiece and sold by 1828. The three New York panels belonged to Lord Taunton until 1869 and then a Mrs Stanley of Bridgewater, Somerset. They were bought by the Metropolitan Museum in 1917. Their execution is sometimes ascribed to an assistant (or Davide Ghirlandaio). The Baptistery and Campanile of Florence Cathedral appear in the background of the Burial of St Zenobius and a distant view of Florence, dominated by the Cathedral dome, in the background of the Tobias and the Angel.
Portrait of a Woman. Wood, 57 x 44.
The sitter closely resembles a woman on the left of Ghirlandaio’s fresco of St Francis raising the Roman Notary’s Son in Santa Trinita, and is probably one of Francesco Sassetti’s five daughters (perhaps Selvaggi, who was born in 1470). She looks a little older than in the fresco, which was painted around 1485. The portrait was previously in the Paris collections of Leopold Goldschmidt and Conte André de Pastré. Sold to Kleinberger of New York in 1924, and bought the same year by Michael Friedsam, who bequeathed his collection to the Metropolitan Museum in 1931.The attribution, which had been accepted by most earlier writers, was rejected in Cadogan’s 2000 monograph, which judged the portrait as ‘probably by an unidentified helper in Ghirlandaio’s workshop in the mid-1480s’. It was exhibited in Madrid in 2010 (Ghirlandaio and the Renaissance in Florence) as ‘by Domenico Ghirlandaio and a workshop assistant, possibly David Ghirlandaio’. On the evidence of the pattern of brushstrokes, which run diagonally down from left to right, the artist was left-handed, and Davide is believed to have been the left-handed member of the Ghirlandaio workshop.
Portrait of a Man. Wood, 55 x 45.
This portrait of an unidentified middle-aged man, once supposed to be a cardinal on account of his red gown, is currently labelled by the museum as an early work of Ghirlandaio (about 1477-78). It was previously given to Sebastiano Mainardi – an attribution first made by Berenson in 1896 and generally accepted through to the 1970s. Formerly at the Berlin Gallery, which acquired it as a work of Ghirlandaio in 1829 from an unknown Italian collection. Sold in 1924 to Keinberger of New York; bought the same year by Michael Friedsam and bequeathed by him to the Metropolitan Museum in 1931. The removal of the top layer of oxidized pigment has left the background a conspicuously bright green.
Saint Christopher. Detached fresco, 284 x 150.
St Christopher, supposedly a Canaanite giant of fearsome appearance, carried the Christ Child across a dangerous river. He was not only the patron saint of travellers, but was also invoked against water, tempest and plague, and especially against sudden death. The picture is well preserved for a detached fresco; it is said to have come from the chapel of the Villa Michelozzi (near San Gimignano) and was acquired by Cornelius Vanderbilt of New York in 1880. It was identified at one time with a fresco of St Christopher by the Pollaiuolo brothers, described by Vasari and other early writers, on the façade of San Martino fra le Torre; but this work seems to have been much larger. The attribution to Ghirlandaio, as an early work of the 1470s, was made by Ragghianti in 1935. It has been usually – if not unanimously – accepted.
Oxford. Ashmolean Museum.
Portrait of a Young Man. Wood, 43 x 32.
The youthful sitter, wearing the red cloth of the upper-class Florentine’s public costume, is portrayed, bust-length and three-quarter face, against a landscape of cliffs and hills. The attribution to Ghirlandaio goes back to the nineteenth century (when it was first made apparently by Waagen and accepted by Crowe and Cavalcaselle). Later attributions were made to Pintoricchio (eg. in Berenson’s 1932-68 Lists) and to Sebastiano Mainardi, but the attribution to Ghirlandaio is maintained by the museum. The influence of Netherlandish portraiture, especially Hans Memling’s, is patent. One of 41 paintings donated to the museum in 1850 by William Thomas Horner Fox-Strangways, who was Secretary of Legation in Florence in 1825-28. Quite well preserved, especially the landscape.
Old Man and his Grandson. Wood, 62 x 46.
The old man’s portrait was probably not done from life, but seems to have been adapted from a drawing (once owned by Vasari and now in Stockholm) made when he was lying on his funeral bier. In the drawing the growth on the nose is more marked. The portrait may date from about 1490. From the Palazzo Ridolfi in the Via Maggio, Florence. Bought in about 1876 by Wilhelm von Bode for the Berlin Museum, which however refused to accept the purchase because of the picture’s condition. Acquired by the Louvre for 18,000 francs in 1880. The paint on the old man’s forehead has been badly scratched (possibly by a nail when the picture was in transit); the damage was covered up in a restoration of 1996.
Visitation. Wood, 172 x 165.
St Mary Salome enters from the right; St Mary Jacobi stands on the left. The elderly St Elizabeth falls to her knees as she greets the youthful Virgin. The Roman Pantheon, the Arch of Constantine and the Column of Trajan (or Marcus Aurelius) are visible through the arch. From the chapel of Lorenzo di Giovanni Tornabuoni in the church of Cestello (now Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi). The chapel (fourth on the left) was dedicated to the memory of Lorenzo’s first wife, Giovanna degli Albizzi, who died in childbirth in October 1488. The picture cost 80 ducats. It is dated 1491 (lower right). According to Vasari, it was finished by Davide and Benedetto Ghirlandaio, while some modern critics have detected the hand of Mainardi in the figure of St Elizabeth. It came to the Louvre as Napoleonic booty in 1812. The chapel still preserves the stained glass window Ghirlandaio designed showing Lorenzo Tornabuoni’s name saint.
Madonna and Child with the Infant Baptist and Angels. Wood, 92 in dia.
The Virgin supports the Child on a cushion on her knee and strokes the chin of the little St John, who kneels in adoration. Three angels hold long-stemmed lilies, and a misty seaport is viewed through arches in the background. The tondo entered the Louvre in 1863 with the Campana collection. It is probably the best of no fewer than twenty versions (which include a near replica at Cherbourg, slight variants in the Museo Civico at San Gimignano, the Capodimonte Museum at Naples and the Liechtenstein collection at Vienna, and a ruined fragment at Ajaccio). All the many versions were for years attributed to Bastiano Mainardi, but they vary considerably in quality and are now often classed simply as works of Ghirlandaio's studio or school. The composition is probably Ghirlandaio's and may date from around 1490.
Philadelphia. Museum of Art.
Man of Sorrows. Wood, 54 x 34.
Christ, crowned with thorns and weeping with sorrow, raises his pierced hand in benediction. This moving image is based on a painting by Ghirlandaio’s Netherlandish contemporary Hans Memling (Palazzo Bianco, Genoa). In John J. Johnson’s collection by 1917.
Pisa. Museo Nazionale di San Matteo.
Madonna and Four Saints. Wood, 156 x 161.
The Virgin, holding a white rose, is enthroned between SS. Catherine of Alexandria and Stephen (left) and Lawrence and Rose (or Rosalia of Palermo, Dorothy or Cecila?). One of two pictures of the Madonna and Saints by Ghirlandaio or his studio that were formerly in the church of Sant’Anna in Pisa and were transferred by 1917 to the museum. They are probably the two pictures by Ghirlandaio mentioned by Vasari in the church of San Girolamo ai Gesuati; when the Gesuati were suppressed in 1668, the contents of their church were acquired by the convent of Sant’Anna next door. The two pictures probably date from about 1478-79, when Ghirlandaio is documented as having received payments in Pisa for ‘two figures of Our Lady’.
Madonna with Four Saints and a Donor. Wood, 144 x 143.
The saints on the left are Jerome and possibly Paul or Matthew; the Archangel Raphael and possibly John Gualbertus on the right. Probably the other picture mentioned by Vasari in San Girolamo. It is less well preserved, and may have been painted largely by Davide Ghirlandaio.
St Sebastian and St Roch. Wood, 175 x 116.
This damaged panel is described by Vasari in the church of San Girolamo ai Gesuati (‘a picture of St Roch and St Sebastian by the hand of [Ghirlandaio], which was given by one of the Medici to the fathers, who have therefore added the arms of Pope Leo X’). The execution may be largely by Ghirlandaio’s workshop (Davide?). There are two large cracks (one through the middle of the panel and the other through the figure of St Sebastian), many paint losses and much repainting.
Pisa. Duomo. Apse arch.
Angels. Restored frescoes.
From September 1492 Ghirlandaio is documented as working on frescoes for the façade and intrados of the Cappella Maggiore and restoring mosaics in the apse. The Angels, mentioned by Vasari on the intrados of the apse arch, were much restored in 1827. The Annunciation above the arch was completely repainted in about 1600. Ghirlandaio also painted (in 1490) a pair of organ shutters for the cathedral, which no longer survive.
St Vincent Altarpiece. Main panel, 198 x 230.
St Vincent Ferrer is shown as a Dominican friar – tonsured and in the black-and-white habit – pointing to an image of God in Heaven. His open book displays a quotation common in representations of the saint: 'Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgement is come' (Revelation 14: 7). The figure of St Sebastian, on the left, seems to have been derived from Perugino’s San Domenico Altarpiece of 1493 in the Uffizi. St Roch, on the right, displays the plague ulcer on his thigh. The altarpiece is from the Malatesta chapel in the church of San Domenico, and the portraits represent the last members of that family to rule in Rimini: Pandolfo IV, his younger brother Carlo, his wife Violante Bentivoglio, and his mother Elisabetta. The portraits were evidently painted out when Pandolfo was exiled from the city, and they were brought to light again only in 1924 when the overpaint was removed. The altarpiece was commissioned by Elisabetta Malatesta from Ghirlandaio for 130 florins. Ghirlandaio died when it was still unfinished. In litigation over its completion, the fee was reduced because the work by Davide and other assistants was considered inferior to Domenico’s. It was finally completed by 14 September 1496. The portraits are clearly by a hand quite different from the others, and have been attributed to the young Fra Bartolommeo.
The predella (20 x 230) shows three of St Vincent's miracles: he rescues a child who had fallen into a ditch; he heals a cripple; and he appears in the sky to raise a man from the dead. The scenes have been attributed to the 'Pseudo-Granacci' (perhaps identifiable as Poggio Poggini, who is documented as a garzone in Ghirlandaio's late workshop).
The lunette (59 x 230), depicting God the Father Blessing, has been attributed to Ghirlandaio's workshop or to Sebastiano Mainardi.
Rome. Vatican. Sistine Chapel.
Calling of the First Apostles. Fresco, 340 x 540.
Christ appears three times: in the background he is shown calling Peter and Andrew who are casting their nets (left) and James and John who are in a boat with their father Zebedee (right); and in the foreground he is shown with the kneeling figures of Andrew and Peter. The group of spectators on the right is thought to include portraits of Florentines then at Rome, including (white-haired and in profile) the banker and papal treasurer Giovanni Tornabuoni, who later commissioned Ghirlandaio’s great fresco cycle in Santa Maria Novella, with his son Lorenzo. Ghirlandaio, Perugino and Cosimo Rosselli were contracted on 27 October 1481 to paint ten frescoes on the walls of the chapel by 15 March 1482. In addition to the Calling, Ghirlandaio painted a Resurrection of Christ over the doorway, which was repainted in 1571-72 by the Flemish artist Van den Broeck. Ghirlandaio was also responsible for six or seven of the thirty figures of standing popes in the spaces between the windows, and his workshop may have contributed several others. The Calling, which was restored in 1973-74 and again in 1997, is in very good condition (though the original gold leaf has mainly fallen away).
Rome. Vatican. Biblioteca Apostolica.
Busts of Doctors of the Church and Classical Philosophers. Frescoed lunettes.
These eight frescoed lunettes are the earliest documented works of Ghirlandaio’s workshop. Domenico (who was paid 10 gold ducats on 28 November 1475) was probably responsible for the design, while Davide (who was paid regularly on account until 4 May 1476) was probably responsible for the execution. Since 1948, the room has been used for storage. The frescoes were rediscovered, damaged and much repainted, in 1967.
San Gimignano. Collegiata. Chapel of Santa Fina.
St Gregory appears to Santa Fina; Funeral of Santa Fina. Frescoes, 295 x 320.
The little Renaissance chapel was designed by Giuliano da Maiano in 1468, and the altar and marble shrine, containing the relics of Santa Fina, was carved by Benedetto da Maiano and installed by November 1477. Ghirlandaio’s frescoes are his earliest major works. They are sometimes dated about 1474-5 (when there are records of payments to a painter from Florence called Domenico for work in the Collegiata) and sometimes a few years later (on the evidence of payments for pigments in November 1477 and May 1478 which may refer to work on the frescoes). Vasari says that the frescoes were painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio and Sebastiano Mainardi, a native of San Gimignano. However, Mainardi, who appears to have been born in 1466/8, would have been little more than a child at the time.
The two main scenes are in large lunettes on the sidewalls. On the right, St Gregory the Great appears in a vision to Santa Fina in her sickroom to call her to heaven on his Feast Day. Wallflowers bloom from the oak plank on which she is lying. On the left, Fina lies on her deathbed in front of a magnificent marble altar, with the towers of San Gimignano in the background. Two miracles are shown: the old nurse, Beldia, whose arms had become paralysed because she had held Fina’s head for so long, is healed by a touch of her hand, and a blind choirboy regains his sight by touching his eyes to her feet. The white-haired man wearing a black cap (third from the right) is probably a portrait of Onofrio di Pietro, the operaio of the church. From a high belfry on the left, an angel tolls the death knell (representing the legend that all the bells of the town spontaneously rang as Fina passed away). In the vault are the Four Evangelists, with six saints (the Four Doctors of the Church, St Gimignano and St Nicholas) in the lunettes below and six prophets in the spandrels. The ceiling paintings were badly restored in 1880-81 and, perhaps as a result, have sometimes been ascribed to assistants.
The chapel was hit in 1944, when the town was shelled by the retreating Germans. Benedetto da Maiano's marble altar was slightly damaged, but Ghirlandaio's frescoes were unharmed. (Franco Zeffirelli's picturesque Second World War drama Tea with Musssolini (1999) shows the sandbagging of the frescoes to save them from destruction.) The frescoes were restored in 1977, and remain in remarkably good condition.
Loggia del Baptistero.
The Annunciation in the Baptistery loggia, left of the church façade, is dated 1482 in the inscription. Close in style to the frescoes in the Chapel of Santa Fina, the Annunciation was traditionally given to Ghirlandaio as well. It was later regarded as a work of Sebastiano Mainardi. But, now that it is known that Mainardi would have been only in his early teens in 1482, it has been given back to Ghirlandaio (or attributed to Davide Ghirlandaio on a design by Domenico).
San Marino (California). Huntington Library.
Portraits of Young Man and Young Woman. Wood, each 52 x 40.
The young man is portrayed three-quarter face against a landscape of green hills, a lake and distant blue mountains. The young woman is shown in profile in an open loggia overlooking a continuation of the same landscape. The alcove on the right displays an open book, a glass vase, a broach and ring, and a string of coral beads hanging in the top right corner. The portraits presumably represent a newly betrothed or married couple, and may originally have been framed as a diptych. They were probably acquired in Italy by William Drury Lowe, an English landowner and great collector of Italian art, who loaned them to the famous Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857 as works of Masaccio. They were recognised as being 'in the style of Domenico Ghirlandaio' by Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1864) and were later attributed (by Berenson among others) to Sebastiano Mainardi (a name used as a peg on which to hang a great many Ghirlandaiesque portraits). The portraits remained with the Drury Lowe family at Locko Park in Derbyshire until the early twentieth century, when they were acquired by Arabella Huntington, whose purchases were to form the nucleus of the Huntington Library art collection. An attribution to Ghirlandaio himself was proposed by Everett Fahy when the portraits were included in the exhibition Art and Love in Renaissance Italy, held at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, in 2008-9. There is another version of the pair of portraits (attributed either to Mainardi or to Davide Ghirlandaio) at Berlin. There is yet a third version at Montpellier, but this pair (which is both very worn and clearly inferior in execution) may by only an old copy. While the woman is the same in all three pairs of portraits, the man appears to be different in each case, and it is possible that the three male portraits represent the successive spouses or prospective bridegrooms of the young woman.
Christ in Glory with Saints. Wood, 294 x 190.
Christ, seated in the heavens and flanked by praying angels, gives a blessing. The Greek letters alpha and omega inscribed on the book refer to the epithet ('the beginning and the end') applied to God in the Book of Revelation. The saints in white Camaldolese habits are Benedict, with book and birch rods, and Romuald, leaning on his customary T-shaped staff. The two females, kneeling with a dagger on the ground between them, are the early Christian virgin martyrs Actinea and Graeciniana. The Camaldolese monk in prayer in the right-hand corner is the donor, Don Giusto Bonvicini, abbot of the abbey of San Giusto at Volterra, who commissioned the picture to celebrate the discovery of the relics of the two early Christian martyrs under the high altar. In the far distance, a giraffe can be seen being led to water. (A live giraffe was presented to Lorenzo de' Medici by the Sultan of Egypt in 1486 and the animal caused a sensation in Florence.) The picture was installed over the high altar of the abbey in 1492. Transferred to the Pinacoteca Comunale in 1887.
Washington. National Gallery.
Madonna and Child. Wood (transferred), 73 x 51.
The gold background is new; there may originally have been a landscape. The panel has been cropped at the edges, and it is conceivable that it was cut from a larger composition in which the Child was blessing a figure, now missing, on the left. Nothing is known of the history of the picture before 1953, when it was sold at Sotheby’s, London, as a work of Verrocchio. The following year, it was acquired by the Kress Foundation. It was immediately transferred to a new hardboard support, as the original panel was cracked and warped; but apart from the background, the paint surface is well preserved. At the time of the 1953 Sotheby’s sale, an attribution to the young Ghirlandaio, when strongly under the influence of Verrocchio, was published by Federico Zeri (in Bollettino d’Arte). The attribution was supported by Berenson (1963 Lists) and has been generally accepted since. Datings in the early or mid-1470s are usually suggested.
Lucrezia Tornabuoni. Wood, 53 x 40.
Much abraded (especially in the face) and retouched. The blue dress was originally covered by a green glaze. An inscription on the back has been read as LU … TIA TORNABUONI MEDICI, although only TORNABUONI is now decipherable. Lucrezia Tornabuoni was the sister of Giovanni Tornabuoni, who commissioned Ghirlandaio’s frescoes in Santa Maria Novella, and the wife of Piero de’ Medici (Il Gottoso) and mother of Lorenzo the Magnificent. She died in 1482 at the age of 57. She is thought to have been portrayed posthumously in one of the Santa Maria Novella frescoes (the woman next to the running servant with the basket of fruit in the Birth of St John the Baptist). She appears younger in the Washington portrait. In the late nineteenth century the painting was owned by William Graham, a Glaswegian wine merchant and Liberal politician, now best known for his patronage of the Pre-Raphaelites. Later in the collection of Sir Kenneth Muir Mackenzie in London. Acquired by Kress (via Contini Bonacossi) in 1950.
Williamstown (Massachusetts). Clark Art Institute.
Portrait of a Young Lady. Wood, 56 x 38.
She wears a shimmering red silk dress and a little embroidered cap secured by a tiny bow under her chin. The pearl pendant around her neck is similar to that worn by Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornaborni in the celebrated profile portrait in Madrid and by Giovanna and other young women (probably her sisters) in the frescoes of the Visitation and Birth of the Baptist in Santa Maria Novella. The sprig of orange blossom in her hand suggests that she may have been a bride. The coiffure and costume suggest a date around 1485-90. Ascribed to Ghirlandaio and/or his workshop. Acquired by Sterling Clark in 1913. At some earlier time, the sitter had been given a halo, crown and spiked wheel to turn her into St Catherine of Alexandria. These additions were removed in 1913 (though traces of the halo are still just visible).