Ghirlandaio, Domenico del

(Domenico di Tommaso Bigordi; 1449-1494)
   Ghirlandaio was the son of a gold-smith who was noted for his ability to create gold garlands (ghirlande) worn by wealthy women, hence the nickname. Little is known of his training, though it is supposed that he learned metal-work from his father. By the 1480s his own workshop included the young Michelangelo. Ghirlandaio catered mainly to the Florentine merchant community. Early in his career, his protectors were the Vespucci, who in 1471 commissioned him to decorate their funerary chapel in the Church of Ognissanti, Florence. Among the frescoes in this chapel is the Madonna della Misericordia who shelters in her mantle members of the patron family, including the explorer Amerigo Vespucci. In 1480, the Vespucci again approached Ghirlandaio to paint a St. Jerome in the Ognissanti to compete with Sandro Botticelli's St. Augustine (1480) in the same location. At the same time, Ghirlandaio painted a Last Supper in the church's refectory, a subject he was to repeat on a number of occasions, including in 1486 in the refectory at the hostel of the San Marco Monastery.
   His reputation well established, in 1482 Ghirlandaio was called to Rome by Pope Sixtus IV, along with Botticelli and Pietro Perugino, to work on the wall frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Ghirlandaio contributed the Calling of Sts. Peter and Andrew, when Christ asks the saints to follow him as his apostles. He also contributed a Resurrection, destroyed to make way for Michelangelo's frescoes on the Sistine ceiling (1508-1512). Upon his return to Florence, Ghirlandaio was asked by Francesco Sassetti, a wealthy banker, to decorate his family chapel at Santa Trinità with scenes from the life of his namesaint, Francis. The altarpiece in the Sassetti Chapel depicts the Annunciation and Adoration of the Shepherds with Francesco and his wife, Nera Corsi, kneeling at either side. In 1485-1490, Ghirlandaio painted for Giovanni Tornabuoni, related by marriage to the Medici, a series of large frescoes in the Cappella Maggiore at Santa Maria Novella, Florence, depicting scenes from the lives of the Virgin and St. John the Baptist that include members of the Tornabuoni family. Among them, the Massacre of the Innocents is somewhat of an anomaly in Ghirlandaio's oeuvre. While most of his work is subdued and rather dispassionate, this scene is dramatic and full of movement. Inspired by battle scenes on Roman sarcophagi, the work presents an effective contrast between the brutality of the soldiers and the desperation of the victims.
   Another work by Ghirlandaio with emotional content, though not as poignant as the Massacre of the Innocents, is his Old Man and Young Boy in the Louvre, Paris (c. 1480). The sitters in this painting have not been identified, though clearly it is a man and his grandson. Though the man's nose is deformed from rhinophyma, a condition that results in the build-up of excessive tissue, the child accepts him and shows his affection unreservedly. The honest portrayal of the figures, with every imperfection denoted, as well as the crisp landscape behind them, bears the influence of Early Netherlandish art that by now was well represented in Italian collections.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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