Summary of Ghirlandaio
The Early Renaissance master Ghirlandaio is known for his stylish, detailed paintings which he made his own by interweaving contrasting aspects of Northern and Western art traditions. As well as being significant artistic accomplishments in themselves, Ghirlandaio's religious frescos routinely featured portraits of prominent Florentine figures placed in modern settings. These works have left the world a rare and evocative insight into fifteenth-century Tuscan tastes and customs. Ghirlandaio numerous frescos and aristocratic portraits proved so popular the artist became inundated with commissions, leading him to establish a substantial, and finely tuned, workshop. Ghirlandaio's name in the timeline of Renaissance art is in fact underlined as the master who apprenticed a young Michelangelo.
- Like other Renaissance masters of his time (such as Botticelli and Filippino Lippi with whom he is sometimes compared) Ghirlandaio's art confirms his mastery of the precise compositional dimensions that had been handed down from the ages of antiquity. What marks Ghirlandaio's frescos out as both innovative and audacious, was his way of popularizing traditional religious narratives by introducing persons, fashions, furnishings, and locations to which fifteenth century Florentines could relate.
- Ghirlandaio's tempera portraits (he would never work in oils) demonstrate his inventive compositional and stylistic approach which he adapted to suit his sitters. For instance, his famous posthumous, Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni (1489-90), idealized the noblewoman to the extent that she was transformed into an icon of beauty for young Florentine girls, while his second masterpiece from the period, An Old Man and his Grandson (1490), was executed with a degree of candor that made a feature of the old man's pronounced facial disfigurement.
- Ghirlandaio's highly developed narrative sense saw him summoned to Rome (with other leading artists of the day, including Botticelli, Perugino, and Cosimo Rosselli) to work on a fresco cycle for the new Sistine Chapel. His skill at filling his scenes with elegant figures, and by blending in secondary, "anecdotal", narrative elements was here reconfirmed. But his Vocation of Peter and Andrew on the Chapel's north wall also demonstrated his skill in landscapes, with his snaking Sea of Galilee, hemmed in by mountains, hills and palatial buildings, bringing his fresco a palpable compositional density.
- In 1487 Ghirlandaio's workshop welcomed a twelve-year-old apprentice, Michelangelo Buonarroti. Although he only stayed a year (before being transferred to Lorenzo de' Medici's prestigious painting academy), and while Michelangelo (never one to play down his own genius) claimed always to be entirely self-taught, Ghirlandaio's style and technique appear prominently in the early work of Michelangelo, specifically in his use of cross-hatch shading (a subtly shading technique that brings the illusion of depth to the painting).
The Life of Ghirlandaio
Vasari said of Ghirlandaio that he was "created by Nature herself to become a painter [...] achieving great honour and profit both for art and for his family, and [for being] beloved in his own time [...] Wherefore he has deserved to be held in honour and esteem for such rich and undying benefits to art, and to be celebrated with extraordinary praises after his death".
Progression of Art
The Last Supper
Near the beginning of his career, Ghirlandaio painted three frescoes of The Last Supper within the space of a decade, including one at Badia a Passignano, just outside Florence, dated to 1476, another at the convent of Ognissanti in Florence (either 1480 or 1482), and another at the Convent of San Marco (either 1480 or 1486). All three compositions imitate Andrea del Castagno's The Last Supper fresco (c. 1450), in the Cenacolo di Sant'Apollonia, with nearly all the figures, including the centrally-placed Christ (with his favorite discipline, John, leaning sleepily on his shoulder), facing the viewer, and Judas physically separated from the group by being seated on the viewer's (near) side of the table. Arts writer Alexandra Lawrence says that "There is great variety in Ghirlandaio's depiction: Christ and the apostles, weighty and dense, are portrayed as young, old and middle-aged, each with his own distinct appearance, which anticipates the sharp realism of later works by Ghirlandaio's workshop".
Architect Sylvie Duvernoy and art historian Giampiero Mele recognize Ghirlandaio's Last Supper trilogy as "pioneering artworks that mark a turning point [in] perspective science". They write that, in these versions, "For the very first time the representation of the Last Supper covers the full wall on which it is painted: no other biblical scene is there to enhance the dramatic atmosphere. For the first time, the mensa [altar stone] around which Jesus and the Apostles are seated is shaped as a C [...] For the first time, the vaulted space in which the meal is taking place has architectural features recalling those of the room to which the painted wall belongs". They add that "the progress in depicting the emotional states of the Apostles, goes in parallel with the progress in the use of the expressive potentiality of perspective and the use of its capacity to produce accurate trompe l'oeil effects that will enhance the sense of drama in the mind of the viewers".
There are some minor, yet intriguing differences between the three frescos. For instance, while in this, the Ognissanti version, only Jesus has a pronounced halo, in the San Marco version all the figures (bar Judas) are given halos. The San Marco version also includes a cat near Judas's feet, symbolizing deceit, and treachery, while Peter's expression is disdainful, with the knife he holds standing erect, poised to use on Jesus's betrayer (Judas). The contents of the lunettes in each version also differ, with the Badia a Passignano version complementing other religious frescoes by Botticelli. Religious symbolism abounds in all the works, with fruits and vegetables, such as ripe apricots representing sin, lettuce (a simple vegetable) representing penance, and cherries and pomegranates representing Christ's sacrifice. The Ognissanti and San Marco versions also depict trees and birds representing the glorious beauty of Paradise.
Fresco - Cenacolo di Ognissanti, Florence
Vocation of the Apostles
Ghirlandaio's Vocation of the Apostles (also known as The Calling of the Apostles) is located in the third compartment on the north wall of the Sistine Chapel and is part of the cycle of the life of Christ. Before Ghirlandaio's ex-pupil, Michelangelo, arrived a quarter of a century later to (somewhat reluctantly) transform the chapel into one of the most important venues in the history of Western art, Ghirlandaio was amongst a select few Florentine and Umbrian artists called to Rome by Pope Sixtus IV to decorate the newly built chapel, most likely under the direction of Umbrian painter, Pietro Perugino. The wall paintings were executed by Ghirlandaio, Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Cosimo Rosselli, Luca Signorelli with the original ceiling fresco (featuring a star-spangled sky) painted by Piero Matteo d'Amelia. (Between 1508-12, Michelangelo created his masterpiece of the High Renaissance when he repainted the ceiling with scenes from the Old Testament, and later, The Last Judgment (1535-41), on the chapel's newly built altar wall.) Ghirlandaio's fresco shows Christ calling his disciples to leave their former vocations and to follow him. It is a densely populated scene with many onlookers while, into the background, stretches the Sea of Galilee, flanked on either side by rocky cliffs, mountains, and buildings. On the water we see a number of rowboats.
The Pope had requested that each fresco in the cycle represent several episodes at once (an approach which had been popular in religious art but was falling out of vogue). In the Vocation of the Apostles (for which the artist enlisted the help of his brother-in-law Sebastiano Mainardi), Ghirlandaio shows Christ at the center foreground blessing the fishermen/disciple brothers Peter and Andrew who kneel before him. The figures are identifiable by the color of their robes, yellow-orange for Peter and green for Andrew. Both are barefoot, as Christ had instructed them "Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals nor staff". Further back, and to the right, Peter and Andrew appear again, this time standing behind Christ as he calls out to brothers James and John who are sitting in their boat with their father, Zebedes, mending their fishing nets. To them, Christ said "Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men".
The weight, volume, and rich colors of the clothing worn by the central male figures in this fresco, as well as the landscape, indicate the influence of Masaccio's Brancacci Chapel frescoes, particularly, The Tribute Money (1425). The colorful birds that swoop gracefully in the sky are likely inspired by Benozzo Gozzoli's Procession of the Magi (1459-61). However, on the sides of his fresco, we see Ghirlandaio's distinct style in the way he renders the female figure in the group of women who occupy the bottom left corner of his tableau. Ghirlandaio also incorporates portraiture, including at the bottom right faces of members of the most important Florentine families, the Medicis and Tornabuonis, who had residences in Rome. Moreover, these figures are shown wearing contemporary clothing, a signature Ghirlandaio feature. Art historian Peter J. Murray explains that it is also possible "that the inclusion of these Florentines in a fresco painted for the Vatican had political significance, since the Florentine government had recently accused Pope Sixtus IV of complicity in the Pazzi conspiracy. The Pazzi, a powerful Tuscan banking family, had attempted to murder the leading members of the Florentine Medici family, Giuliano and Lorenzo de'Medici (1478). Giuliano had been killed in the attempt while Lorenzo escaped with few wounds".
Fresco - Sistine Chapel, Vatican
Adoration of the Shepherds
One of Ghirlandaio's masterpieces, Adoration of the Shepherds was commissioned by the Sassetti, a wealthy Florentine family, as the altarpiece for their chapel in the Basilica of Santa Trinita. The Sassetti chapel was consecrated to the birth of Christ, and all artworks there relate to this theme. The painting's main scene (as the title indicates) shows the shepherds visiting the Virgin Mary and the newborn Christ. Two members of the Sassetti family, dressed as shepherds, are included in the scene at the far right, as witnesses to the event. Beside them, the artist included a self-portrait dressed as a shepherd. With his right hand, he points to himself, and with his left, he points down simultaneously at Jesus and the garland on the sarcophagus behind Jesus's head, while looking back at the Sassetti men, as if indicating "I, Ghirlandaio (the 'garland-maker') painted this Christ child for you". Several other symbolic objects are present in the foreground. As art historian Beverly Hall Smith observes, the terracotta tiles are likely a reference to the Sassetti name (which translates as "small rocks" or "pebbles") while "The goldfinch [sitting on the nearby book] has yellow feathers with black tips and a splash of red on its head, symbolizing the crown of thorns and drops of blood. Jesus's halo is striped with red in recognition of His destiny".
In the background, meanwhile, two ancient cities are presented side-by-side, one clearly being Jerusalem, while the other appears to be an amalgam of Rome and Florence. Hall Smith argues that "in combining the city of Rome and Florence, Ghirlandaio was proposing Florence as the new Rome". On the left-hand side, the procession of the magi coming to visit Jesus pass under a Roman triumphal arch, thereby symbolizing the victory of the Romans over the Hebrews. Moreover, instead of laying on a manger, the baby Jesus is placed on the ground in front of an ancient Roman sarcophagus. Hall Smith concludes that by replacing the manger with a sarcophagus, "Ghirlandaio links symbolically the birth and the death of Christ" and duly connects "the fall of the pagan Roman world to the birth of Jesus".
Adoration of the Shepherds is evidently indebted to a 1480 painting of the same title by Flemish artist Hugo van der Goes, as well as to van der Goes's 1475-76 Portinari Altarpiece, both of which were produced for churches in Florence. In particular, Ghirlandaio mimicked van der Goes's Adoration of the Shepherds in the way the shepherds at the bottom right push their way into the frame, and their use of rustic shepherds' clothing, as well as the more realistic representation of the figures, something that was, at that time, a novelty in Florentine art. Ghirlandaio's landscape is also similar to that seen in many Northern Renaissance masterpieces. Arts writer Mia Forbes notes that "Such an homage helps to illuminate the cultural network that was beginning to appear across the European continent at this time". However, Ghirlandaio also made some personal compositional choices, such as placing the figures of Mary and Joseph at the center of the narrative (van der Goes had placed Mary and Joseph kneeling either side of the Christ child). Moreover, Mary's face is based on a Florentine model, and she is shown wearing a red Florentine dress, under her more conventional biblical garments. Indeed such combinations of fashion styles (biblical and contemporary Florentine) within a single image was an approach pioneered by Ghirlandaio.
Oil and tempera on panel - Sassetti Chapel, Basilica Santa Trinita, Florence, Italy
The Birth of Mary (Birth of the Virgin)
The Birth of Mary was one of several frescos commissioned by the prominent Florentine Tornabuoni family for their chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Art historian Sally Hickson explains that, like their main rivals, the Medici family, the Tornabuoni family were bankers, and they "employed this kind of sacred patronage to expiate themselves against charges of immoral luxuriousness and wealth, as well as to quell suspicions of usury (charging interest, which was considered a sin). [...] The extravagant 'humility' of rich patrons (the Medici, the Tornabuoni and others), adorning the city with thinly-veiled monuments to themselves, came to be considered a demonstration of virtuous public service, celebrated as civic magnificenza". Several paintings in Santa Maria Novella celebrate the life of the church's namesake, the Virgin Mary. Writes Hickson, "Among the many lovely aspects of the life of the Virgin, the loveliest is the story of her conception, born of [an embrace] between the aged Joachim and the long-barren Saint Ann[e], as they linger by the city gate". Ghirlandaio, however, places this embrace at the top left of his fresco (at the top of a staircase). This architectural feature creates a sense of continuity into the main scene, the birth of Mary, in the room below.
The unusual placement of these biblical vignettes inside a contemporary Florentine palace might be called "quintessential Ghirlandaio", as the artist would often blend traditional religious imagery with locations, fashions, and objects more familiar to Renaissance-era Florentines. Art historian Peter J. Murray observes that "these narrative scenes contain a wealth of detail showing patrician interiors and contemporary dress; as a result they are one of the most important sources for current knowledge of the furnishings of a late 15th-century Florentine palace". At the far right, St. Anne is propped up on her elbows in her bed, looking on attentively as a midwife holds baby Mary to be viewed by some of the Tornabuoni women (likely Ludovica, Lucrezia, and/or Giovanna) and a group of fellow Florentine noblewomen. The women are also dressed in contemporary Florentine dresses, known as giornea, which contain symbolic elements. Art historian Joynel Fernandes observes, for instance, that the dress on the woman at the front of the group (probably Ludovica), contains "a unicorn (virginity) kneeling before a dove (purity)".
Sixteenth-century art historian and biographer Giorgio Vasari said of this work that it was "executed with great care" and contains "noteworthy details" such as "a window set into the building in perspective which lights the chamber and deceives the onlooker" (at the same time, as Fernandes notes, it allegorically "symbolizes the sublime presence of the Divine"). The painting also demonstrates Ghirlandaio's talent for female portraiture. Wrote Vasari, the artist "introduced several other women who are carefully washing the Virgin - one pours water, another prepares the swaddling clothes, yet another does one chore or another, and while one attends to her own task, there is another woman who holds the little Child in her arms and makes Her laugh with a smile, expressing a feminine grace that is truly worthy of a painting like this one - not to mention many other expressions worn on the faces of all the other figures". Ghirlandaio also included a Latin inscription at the bottom of the scene, which states "Nativitas tua genitrix virgo gaudium annunziavit universo mundo" ("Thy birth, O Virgin and Mother of God, brings joy to all the world").
Fresco - Tornabuoni Chapel, Church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy
Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni
Ghirlandaio was commissioned to paint this portrait of Florentine noblewoman Giovanna Tornabuoni (née degli Albizzi) by her grief-stricken husband, Lorenzo, after she died while giving birth to her second child (in 1488, less than two years after their marriage). Giovanna is easily identifiable in the work by her hairstyle, which is identical to that seen in a number of other portraits of her painted by Ghirlandaio during her life. Giovanna even appeared in prominent positions some of Ghirlandaio's religious scenes, such as The Visitation (1486-90) in the Tornabuoni chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence (in which she also wears the dress and accessories).
Arts writer Mia Forbes notes that this final portrait of Giovanna "is famous for its many layers of symbolism and its striking profile form, typical of such Renaissance paintings". This profile portrayal was popular with nobility of the time, as it referenced portraiture on ancient coins and medallions. Curator Mar Borobia adds that the painting "is a classic example of the Florentine Quattrocento portrait in which the sitter poses upright, in strict profile and bust length with the arms in repose and the hands joined. In the face and body the features and proportions are idealised. [This] is evident both in the lines that create the slender neck and shape of the body and in the expressionless and perfect features. As in other portraits of this period, the ideal beauty used to depict Giovanna Tornabuoni is based on theoretical principles and examples taken from classical antiquity, which artists of this date then combined with the individual features of the particular sitter". In fact, recent X-ray analysis shows that the final version of the painting is far more idealized than Ghirlandaio's original underdrawings.
Borobia explains that the objects in the niche behind Giovanna refer "to the sitter's refined tastes and character. The jewel with the dragon, two pearls and a ruby, which forms a set with the pendent hanging from a silk cord around her neck, refers to her public life. This dragon brooch is balanced on the other side by the prayer book and string of coral beads that has been identified as a rosary, both of which emphasise her piety and her inner life". During the Renaissance, coral was also believed to ward off evil, and to protect fertility. Meanwhile, the two "L's" embroidered on the shoulder of her dress refer to her husband, Lorenzo. In the center of this niche is also a cartellino that contains the year of Giovanna's death, as well as an epigram by ancient Roman poet Martial, which reads "Art, if only you could reproduce the character and the spirit. There would be no finer portrait in the world".
Mixed media on panel - Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain
An Old Man and his Grandson
In this touching, intimate portrait, an old man wearing a rich red, fur-lined robe holds a young, blonde, curly-haired boy on his lap, who also wears a red doublet and cap. The two figures gaze at each other tenderly, and the boy's left-hand rests gently on the man's chest. They appear in a room with a window through which can be seen a serene landscape, with a winding river, a grassy, tree-covered hill, and beyond, a steep rocky mountain. (As in many Ghirlandaio paintings, this composition indicates the influence of contemporary Northern painters such as Dirck Bouts and Petrus Christus.) Art historian Peter J. Murray notes that this "is perhaps Ghirlandaio's finest painting, notable for its tenderness and humanity, as well as a simplicity and directness of handling". Although the figures' elegant clothing indicates their wealthy status, their identities (or even whether or not they are, in fact, a grandfather and grandson) remain unknown. Perhaps the most poignant aspect of this portrait is the contrast between the boy's angelic, youthful radiance and the old man's visibly weathered, warty, and wrinkled face, with a nose deformed by rhinophyma and/or rosacea. While such a deformity may in other artworks of the time symbolize a defect of character, Ghirlandaio's treatment of the scene presents this detail as simply a realistic feature of a man who cares about a boy, and a boy who loves this man despite his aged appearance.
Art critic Jonathan Jones argues that "This immediately touching portrait [...] is emotive proof of Leon Battista Alberti's claim in his 1435 treatise De Pictura that painting possesses a truly divine power, making the absent present and representing the dead to the living many centuries later. Painting's capacity to catch a passing moment is acute in this portrait of an unknown wealthy man and a child. It seems valedictory, as we see the old man as if through the eyes of the little boy looking up at the noble ruin of a venerable face. [The little boy] appears to be examining the disfigured face of age with clear-eyed curiosity. At the same time, the boy's hand is warm and loving, as is the downward, benevolent gaze of the old man out of heavily lidded, wrinkled, almost tortoise-like eyes. Youth and age, beauty and the ravages of time contemplate each other; the boy is looking at his future, the proud old man at one who will preserve his memory, as this painting does. [...] Out of the window we see a landscape that combines ruggedness and delicacy, like the portrait's juxtapositions. The gentle, hilly countryside leads to a hard rocky peak, as forbidding as the old man's nose. Like a traveller approaching a natural wonder, the boy looks up in awe at the old man, beloved monster".
Tempera on poplar panel - The Louvre, Paris
Biography of Ghirlandaio
The Florentine Renaissance artist known to us as Domenico Ghirlandaio, was born Domenico di Tommaso Curradi di Doffo Bigordi. He was the eldest of six children born to Tommaso Bigordi and his first wife Antonia di ser Paolo Paoli, though only three of these children (Domenico and brothers, Davide, and Benedetto) survived infancy. A sixteen-year-old Ghirlandaio also gained two step-siblings after his father's second marriage. The occupation of his father and uncle Antonio was given as "setaiuolo a minuto", that is, "dealers of silks and related objects in small quantities".
Education and Early Training
Though details of Ghirlandaio's training are scarce, it was reported by sixteenth-century biographer and historian, Giorgio Vasari, that he first apprenticed under his father as a goldsmith specializing in the production of fashionable metallic, garland-like headdresses that were popular with Florentine women. Indeed, Ghirlandaio adopted the name, "Il Ghirlandaio", from the Italian word for "garland-maker". Rather than commit himself to his father's profession, however, he preferred to spend his time painting portraits of visitors to the family workshop. Before long, he apprenticed with the Early Renaissance painter, mosaicist, and draftsman, Alessio Baldovinetti.
Art historian Günter Passavent notes that Ghirlandaio also apprenticed with painter, sculptor, and goldsmith Andrea del Verrocchio. It was probably during this training that he first met fellow Florentine painter Botticelli, and Umbrian painter Perugino, with whom he maintained friendships throughout his life. Ghirlandaio's earliest works, which date from the 1470s, also demonstrate the influence of the frescoes of Florentine painter Andrea del Castagno (however, as del Castagno died when Ghirlandaio was still just eight years old, he would not have had any direct influence on the boy's training).
Ghirlandaio soon distinguished himself from his mentors. One of his earliest projects is believed to be the frescoes of the Church of Ognissanti in Florence (1472-73) and a life-size Last Supper in its refectory. The frescoes demonstrate what was already a blossoming personal style, likely inspired by Flemish masters such as Jan van Eyck, in which he paints portrait figures in contemporary dress, but in religious settings. In 1475, Ghirlandaio completed two frescoes depicting the life of St. Fina, in the Chapel of Santa Fina at San Gimignano, in the Florence suburbs. These works also suggest that the artist was influenced by Fra Filippo Lippi's "stiff" figures, and his symmetrical composition technique, as seen in the frescos in the nearby cathedral of Prato. It is also believed that even at this early stage in his career, Ghirlandaio was employing assistants.
In 1481, he was summoned to Rome by Pope Sixtus IV, with a number of other prominent painters from Florence and Umbria, to help decorate the Sistine Chapel. He painted the Vocation of the Apostles (1481-82) on the Chapel's north wall. While in Rome, Ghirlandaio also produced a number of other works (all now lost). Moreover, he took the opportunity to study Roman antiquities and, as art historian Peter J. Murray notes, "many details of triumphal arches, ancient sarcophagi, and similar antique elements occur in his works throughout the rest of his career".
Back in Florence, Ghirlandaio worked on a commissions to paint frescos at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, and another fresco cycle for the banker Francesco Sassetti (the director of a powerful Medici bank), in the Sassetti Chapel of Santa Trinita. Indeed, demand for Ghirlandaio was such, he set about establishing a large workshop which his ran with brothers, Davide and Benedetto, his brother-in-law, Sebastiano Mainardi, and his son, Ridolfo. Vasari reported that Ghirlandaio "liked to work so much and was so anxious to please everyone that he ordered his apprentices to accept whatever work came to the shop, even if it was only to make rims for the women's baskets, and if they did not want to paint them, he would do them personally, since he wanted no one to leave his shop dissatisfied". Vasari also recounted an instance in which the artist had an outstanding amount owed to him by a patron, but "[Ghirlandaio] who valued glory and honour more than wealth, immediately freed him from the remaining payment, declaring he would much rather satisfy [the patron] than receive the payment".
In 1486, Ghirlandaio commenced work on a cycle of frescos commissioned by the prominent Florentine Tornabuoni family (rivals to the Medici) for their Tornabuoni Chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Historian Sally Hickson writes, "In contrast to the solid, stoic and severe formal classicism of the earlier generation of Alberti, Brunelleschi and Masaccio, Ghirlandaio loved form, color, variety, narrative and the quotidian (everyday) details of Florentine daily life. Although the primary narratives depicted in the Tornabuoni Chapel are scenes from the Life of John the Baptist and from the Life of the Virgin, these biblical scenes unfold in the streets of Florence, often staged in what appear to be temporary stage-sets, theatrical triumphal arches and temples, strewn with various bits of ancient Roman bric-a-brac, hastily assembled for the biblical actors. When you peer through the arches of these Lego-land wonders, you see the solid, sturdy, stone medieval façades of Florence - no matter where he goes in his imagination, for Ghirlandaio, Florence is the whole world. The conflation of time past and time present in the frescoes is also underscored by the inclusion, in many scenes, of late-fifteenth century members of the Tornabuoni family in the biblical subjects, floating across the stage like ghostly apparitions. For over 500 years these vivid frescoes have played across the walls of the chapel like a continuously looping documentary film, chronicling the living history of Florence".
In 1487, Ghirlandaio's most important apprentice arrived in his workshop: a thirteen-year-old Michelangelo Buonarroti. A contract revealing the terms of Michelangelo's employment still survives. It reads, "...the said Michelangelo must stay for the stipulated time with the above named [Domenico and Davide Ghirlandaio] to learn and practice the art of painting, and that he should obey their orders, and that the same Domenico and Davide should pay him in those three years 24 florins of full weight". After only a year in the workshop, however, Lorenzo de' Medici, the de facto ruler of Florence, asked Ghirlandaio to supply his two best students - Michelangelo and Francesco Granacci - to join the Medici's Humanist academy. Forbes explains that "Michelangelo went on to disavow any artistic debt to Ghirlandaio, instead claiming to be entirely self-taught. It is undeniable, however, that Ghirlandaio's style and technique appear prominently in the early work of Michelangelo, specifically the cross-hatch shading used extensively by the former. The student also appears to have inherited his teacher's skill for fresco painting during his brief education, and it may have been in Ghirlandaio's workshop that Michelangelo's passion for ancient sculpture was first ignited".
Late Period and Death
Ghirlandaio continued to be an active painter in Florence through the late 1480s and early 1490s, with important commissions including fresco projects for the church of Santa Maria Novella, the church of Saint Justus, and the Ospedale degli Innocenti orphanage. He also produced a series of mosaics for the Florence Cathedral. While preparing for projects in Siena and Pisa, he passed away on January 11, 1494, just five days after contracting a severe fever. He was only forty-five. The cause of death was recorded as "pestilential fever". He was buried in Florence, at Santa Maria Novella. He had been married twice and was survived by three sons and three daughters.
The Legacy of Ghirlandaio
Domenico Ghirlandaio played a significant role in the development of Early Renaissance art. he was one of the first to adopt compositional and stylistic devices from Northern Europe and pioneered the blending of ancient religious parables with contemporary (Florentine) settings and fashions. Sixteenth-century art historian and biographer Giorgio Vasari called Ghirlandaio "one of the principal artists and one of the most excellent masters of his age because of the merits, grandeur, and multitude of his works". Vasari also recognized Ghirlandaio's talent in mosaic, writing that the artist "enriched the art of painting by working in mosaic with a manner more modern than was shown by any of the innumerable Tuscans who essayed it, as is proved by the works that he wrought, few though they may be".
Today Ghirlandaio is celebrated primarily as a painter, although his popularity waned during the nineteenth century because, as art historian Peter J. Murray explains, "the degree of realism in his work was decried by critics, who appreciated him only for his decorative qualities". But, as Murray explains, in the 1960s Ghirlandaio started to be reevaluated, and " he is now regarded as one of the most eloquent and elegant narrators of Florentine society at the end of the 15th century". For her part, art historian Sally Hickson finds particular pleasure in what she calls Ghirlandaio's "happily idiomatic" style, adding that he "clearly revel[ed] in the quotidian joys of observing the world around him - which is not to say that he lacked imagination. He had a distinct penchant for embellishing severe classical architectural settings with fanciful, fluid and flirtatious decorative flourishes and then peopling them with the most extraordinarily vivid and lively figures".