Painter of Florence

DOMENICO DI TOMMASO DI GHIRLANDAJO, who for the excellence, size and multitude of his works deserves to be considered one of the best masters of his age, was meant by Nature to be a painter, and despite the opposition of his guardian, a thing which frequently spoils the best fruits of our great minds by diverting them from the things for which they are best fitted, he followed his natural bent and won great honour at his art for himself and his house, enriching and charming his age. His father put him with a goldsmith, in which trade he himself possessed considerable merit, the greater part of the silver motive offerings in the treasury of the Nunziata being by his hand, as well as the silver lamps of the chapel, destroyed in the siege of 1529. 1 Tommaso was the first to invent and make fashionable the head ornament worn by Florentine girls called garlands (ghirlande), and from this circumstance he obtained the name of Ghirlandajo, not only because he was the original inventor, but because he had made a large quantity of rare beauty, so that everyone must needs have those which came from his shop. Being put with a goldsmith, but discontented with that trade, Domenico 2 did nothing but design. Endowed by Nature with great ability, admirable taste and good judgment in painting, he always studied design, goldsmith as he was at first, and succeeded in becoming so facile that many relate that even while he was with the goldsmith he would draw everyone who passed the shop, making extraordinary likenesses, a story which is largely borne out by the number of excellent portraits which he produced.

His first paintings were in the Chapel of the Vespucci at Ognissanti, representing a dead Christ and some saints, and a Misericordia over an arch, containing a portrait of Amerigo Vespucci, who navigated the Indies, while in the refectory he painted a Last Supper in fresco. 3 On the right-hand of the entrance to S. Croce he painted the story of St. Paulinus. Having thus acquired fame and credit, he did a chapel in S. Trinita for Francesco Sassatti with stories of St. Francis, 4 an admirable work, remarkable for its grace, finish and delicacy. In it he represented the Ponte S. Trinita with the palace of the Spini, the first scene showing the appearance of St. Francis in the air to raise a child of that family, with the women who see him arise, the grief at his death while they are carrying him to burial, and their joy and wonder at his resurrection. Here also are the friars issuing from the church, with the gravediggers following the cross for the purpose of burial, all very life-like, as are the other figures, who are marvelling and rejoicing at the miracle, affording no little pleasure to the rest of us. Among them are portraits of Maso degli Albizzi,M. Agnolo Acciaiuoli, M. Palla Strozzi, notable citizens and prominent in the history of Florence. Another scene shows St. Francis in the presence of the vicar, renouncing the inheritance of his father, Pietro Bernardone, and assuming the habit of penitence with its rope girdle. In the middle is his visit to Rome to obtain the confirmation of his order from Pope Honorius, presenting a rose to that pontiff in January. In this scene Domenico represented the consistory hall the cardinals seated about it, and some steps approaching it on which are figures standing, among them being a portrait of Lorenzo de' Medici the Magnificent, the elder. He further painted there St. Francis receiving the stigmata, and finally his death anti the lamentation of the friars, one of them represented kissing his hand, an act which could not be better presented than it is here. A bishop in his habit, wearing spectacles, is singing the vigil, and is shown to be merely a painting only because one does not hear him. In two pictures on either side he painted Francesco Secca kneeling, and Madonna Nora, his wife and her children, the latter being in the scene above where the boy is raised to life, with some beautiful maidens of the same family whose names I have not been able to find, all wearing the costumes of the day and making a pleasing picture. Besides this he did four sibyls in the vaulting, and outside the chapel an ornamentation on the front arch, showing how the Tiburtine sibyl caused the Emperor Octavian to adore Christ. This is a very skillfully executed fresco, the colouring being bright and attractive. He painted in tempera, as a companion to this work, a Nativity of Christ 5 which must excite the wonder of every thinking man, introducing his own portrait and some heads of shepherds, which are considered divine. The drawings for this sibyl and other parts of this work, notably the perspective of the Ponte S. Trinith in grisaille, are in our book. For the high altar of the Jesuit friars he painted a picture containing the following saints, kneeling: St. Just, bishop of Volterra, to whom the church was dedicated; St. Zanobius, bishop of Florence; the Angel Raphael; a St. Michael in magnificent armour, and others. 6 In. truth, Domenico deserves praise, for he was the first to imitate the colours of ornaments of gold and other materials, and he did away in a great measure with those borders made by gilding over plaster or gypsum, which are more suited for cloth hangings than for the works of good masters. The most beautiful figure is the Madonna with the Child, surrounded by four little angels. This picture, which is of the highest merit for a work in tempera, was then placed in the church of those friars, outside the Pinti gate, but it was subsequently damaged, as will be said elsewhere, and it is now in the church of S. Giovannino, inside the S. Pier Gattolini gate, where the Jesuit convent stands. In the church of Cestello Domenico painted a picture, finished by his brothers David and Benedetto, containing the Visitation of Our Lady and some very beautiful heads of women. 7 In the church of the Innoeenti he painted in tempera 8 a much-admired picture of the Magi, containing some fine heads and varied physiognomies of people both young and old, notably a head of the Virgin, displaying all the modesty, beauty and grace which art can impart to the Mother of God. On the screen of S. Marco he did another picture, and a Last Supper in the guest-chamber, both carefully finished. In the house of Giovanni Tornabuoni he did a round picture of the Magi, painted with care; and a scene of Vulcan forging thunder bolts for Jove at the Spedaletto for the Lorenzo de' Medici the elder, containing a number of nude figures. In the church of Ognissanti at Florence he painted a St. Lnerome & surrounded by a quantity of books and instruments, competition with Sandro Botticelli, now placed beside the door leading into the choir. This painting, as well as that of Sandro Botticelli, was removed without injury and setup in the middle of the church at the very time when these Lives were being printed for the second time, the friars having decided to remove the position of the choir. Domenico also painted the tympanum of the door of S. Maria Ughi, and a small tabernacle for the art of the flax merchants. In Ognissanti he also did a fine St. George slaying the Serpent. He was, indeed, well versed in the methods of painting walls, and worked with great facility, though his compositions were finely finished. Being invited by Pope Sixtus IV. To Rome to paint his chapel with other artists,' he represented Christ calling Peter and Andrew from their nets, and the Resurrection of Christ, the greater part of which is now destroyed, for it was above the door, and it became necessary to replace a falling architrave.

There was in Rome at this time a rich merchant and great friend of Domenieo named Francesco Tornabuoni. 9 His wife having died in child-birth, as is related in the Life of Andrea Verocchio, Francesco caused her to be buried in the Minerva, as became her rank, and he wished Domenico to paint the entire front of the tomb and also to do a small picture in tempera there. Accordingly the artist did four scenes, two of St. John the Baptist and two of Our Lady, which were then much admired. Francesco treated Domenico so well that when the latter returned to Florence with honour and money he brought with him a letter to his patron's kinsman, Giovanni, describing how well he had done his work and how highly the Pope was delighted with his paintings. When Giovanni heard this he immediately resolved to employ Domenico on some great work which would do honour to himself and bring fame and riches to the artist. It happened that the principal chapel of S. Maria Novella, the convent of the Friars Preachers, had been already painted by Andrea Orcagna, but the roof of the vaulting being badly pipected, it was almost entirely destroyed by the damp. Many citizens had wished to have it restored or newly painted, but the family of the Ricci, who were the patrons, had never been able to makeup their minds, as they could not bear the expense themselves and would not grant the task to others from fear of losing their rights and their armorial bearings left them by their ancestors. Giovanni, being anxious that Domenico should paint this memorial for him, tried various expedients, and at last promised the Ricei that he would bear the entire cost, would recompense them in some way, and would have their arms put up in the most prominent and honourable part of the chapel. This was accepted, and a strictly worded agreement having been drawn up of the tenor indicated above, Giovanni entrusted the work to Domenico, who was to follow the original subjects, arranging that the price should be 1200 gold ducats, and if it should give satisfaction, 200 more. Domenico set to work, and never rested until in four years he had completed the task. This was in 1485, and it gave the utmost satisfaction to Giovanni, who frankly admitted that the 200 ducats had been fairly won, but intimated that he would prefer to keep to the first price. Domenico, who thought more of glory than of wealth, at once forgave him the extra amount, declaring that he was better pleased at having satisfied him than he could be with any payment that he might receive. After this Giovanni caused two large coats of arms to be carved in stone, those of the Tornaquinci and the Tornabuoni,and placed on pilasters outside the chapel, and on the arch other arms of the same family, namely those of the Giachinotti, Fopoleschi, Marabottoni and Cardinali, as well as the first two. When Domenico afterwards did the altar-picture he caused a fine tabernacle of the Sacrament to be placed in a gilt ornament under an arch, as a finish to the picture, introducing the arms of the patrons, that is the Ricci, on a shield a quarter of a braccia high. But the best was to come, for when the chapel was uncovered the Ricci looked everywhere for their arms, and when they could not see them they went off to the magistracy of the Eight, taking their contract. But the Tornabuoni were able to show that the arms had been placed in the most honoured situation, and if the Ricci could not see them it was their own fault, because they ought to be satisfied that their arms were placed near the Sacrament, than which no place was more holy. Accordingly it was decided that things should remain as they were, and so they stand to this day. If anyone objects that this is outside my subject, I beg him to excuse me, because it was at the point of my pen, and serves to show, if nothing else, that poverty is at the mercy of wealth, and that wealth united to prudence may attain its ends without censure.

To return to the fine works of Domenico. In the first place, the vaulting of this chapel contains the four Evangelists, larger than life-size, and the wall with the window has St. Dominic, St. Peter Martyr, St. John going into the desert, the Annunciation, with many of the patron saints of Florence kneeling; above the windows, and at the bottom, a portrait of Giovanni Tornabuoni on the right-hand and of his wife on the left, which are said to be very life-like. On the right wall the scenes are divided into seven compartments, six large ones below occuping the width of the wall, and one above in the arch of the vaulting, twice the size of the others. The left wail has an equal number of spaces, and these scenes relate to St. John the Baptist. The first scene on the right represents Joachim being driven from the Temple, his own face exhibiting patience and those of the Jews contempt and hatred of those who, being childless, came to the Temple. This scene on the side towards the window contains four portraits. One of these, the old, clean-shaven man in a red cap, is Alesso Baldovinetti, Domenico's master in painting and mosaic. Another, standing bareheaded, his hand at his side, in a red mantle, with a blue vest beneath, is Domenico himself, drawn with the help of a mirror. The man with black hair and thick lips is Bastiano da S. Gemignano, 10 the artist's pupil and brotherin -law, and the other, with his back turned and wearing a cap, is Davidde Ghirlandajo, his brother, the painter. All these are said to be most excellent likenesses by those who knew the originals. The second scene is the Nativity of the Virgin, executed with great diligence. Among other remarkable things it contains a window which lights the chamber and actually deceives the beholder. Again, while St. Anne, stretched on her bed, receives the visit of some ladies, he introduced women washing the Infant with great care, pouring out water, drying, and other like services, and while each is attentive to her own duty, one of them holds the Child in her arms and makes it laugh by smiling, with a feminine grace truly worthy of a work of this great genius, each figure being distinguished in its various expressions. The third, which is above the first, represents the Virgin mounting the steps of the Temple, and contains a building diminishing correctly as it recedes from the eye, as well as a nude figure, which gave great satisfaction then, because such things were not common, although it is not so perfect as the more excellent ones of today. Besides this is the Marriage of the Virgin, the youths angrily breaking their rods, which did not flower like that of Joseph. This scene contains many figures and a good building. The fifth shows the Coming of the Magi to Bethlehem with a number of men, horses, dromedaries and other things, a very well-arranged scene. Next to this is the cruel crime of Herod against the Innocents, showing finely the struggles of the women, and the soldiers and horses striking and driving them. Of all his subjects this is the best, being carried out with judgment, ingenuity and great art. Here we see the cruelty of those who at Herold's command kill the poor children without pity for their mothers; one of the babes may be seen still at the breast and dying of a wound in the throat, so that it is sucking, or rather drinking, as much blood as milk, a sight that might well arouse pity even where the emotion has become extinct. Here again is a soldier who has taken a child by force, and as he is pressing it to him to kill it, the mother tears his hair with fury, forcing him to bend backwards. This displays three emotions very finely: first the death of the child who is cut open, then the cruelty of the soldier who is avenging himself on the babe for the pain which he is suffering, and third the mother, beholding her dead child, in her fury and grief seeking to stop the murderer from escaping scot-free, the whole for its remarkable judgment rather the work of a philosopher than a painter. Many other emotions are also represented, so that no beholder can doubt the excellence of the master. The seventh scene, in the top of the arch, is the Passing of Our lady and her Assumption, with troops of angels, a number of figures, landscapes and other ornaments, in which Domenico's easy and skilful style usually abounds. The other wall contains the history of St. John; the first represents lichari as sacrificing in the Temple, the appearance of the angel, and his dumbness because he would not believe. Wishing to show that the most notable persons came to these sacrifices, flomenico introduced a goodly number of Florentine citizens, who were then members of the Government, and especially all the members of Tornabuoni family, both young and old. In order to show that his age abounded in every kind of virtue, and particularly in letters, he introduced in a circle four half figures talking together, at the bottom of the scenes.

These were the most learned Florentines of the day, namely M. Marsilio Ficino in a canon's dress; Cristofano Landino next, in a red mantle and a black ribbon round his throat; Demetrius the Greek in the middle, turning round and lifting his hand slightly; M. Angelo Poliziano, all full of life and energy. The next scene, on a level with the last, is the Visitation of Our Lady and St. Elizabeth, accompanied by women wearing the costumes of the day, among them a portrait of Ginevra de' Benci, a most beautiful girl of the time. The third scene, above the first, is the birth of St. John, with a beautiful idea that, while Elizabeth is in bed and visited by her neighhours and a nurse is suckling the child, a woman is eagerly calling the attention of the visitors to the wonder that has come to her mistress in her old age; and lastly there is a woman bringing fruit and wine from the city, in conformity with the Florentine custom. This is very fine. In the fourth scene, next to this, Zacharias, still dumb, is marveling that a son has been born to him, and as they ask him what the name shall be, he writes on his knees, regarding the child all the while, whom a woman is holding, kneeling reverently before him, making the words "His name shall be John," to the wonder of many other figures who appear to question whether it be true or no. The fifth contains the preaching to the multitudes, showing the attention of the people in hearing new things, notably the scribes listening to John who seen, to be mocking, so much do they hate him; many men and women being here both standing and sitting in various fashions. The next scene shows John baptising Christ, his reverential attitude displaying the belief which he had in that sacrament, and as this led to the most important results he represented a crowd of naked and barefooted figures waiting to be baptised, their faces displaying faith and desire, one especially who is taking off his shoe being energy itself. The last scene, in the arch next the vaulting, is the sumptuous banquet of Herod, with the dancing of Herodias, 11 and a troop of servants performing their various duties. It contains a large building shown in perspective, and in conjunction with the paintings displays Domenico's skill. He did the altarpiece, which stands alone, in tempera, and the other figures which are in the six pictures. Besides a Madonna, who is seated in the air with the Child, surrounded by the other saints, there are St. Laurence and St. Stephen, figures full of life, as well as the St. Vincent and St. Peter Martyr, who only lack the power of speech. 12 It is true that a part of the picture was left unfinished owing to his death, but he had done so much that it only wanted the finishing touches to some figures in the background of the Resurrection of Christ, and three figures in the square spaces, afterwards finished by Benedet to and Davidde Ghirlandajo, his brothers. This chapel was reputed a most beautiful, grand, ornate and lovely work for the brightness of the colouring, the skill and finish of the wall painting, and because there are few retouches a secco, not to speak of the powers of Invention and composition displayed. Certainly Domenico deserves the highest praise from every point of view, but especially for the life he has infused into the heads, which are really the portraits of many distinguished people. For the same Giovanni Tornabuoni he painted a chapel at the Casa Maccherelli, his villa, not far from the city, on the River Terzolle, which is now half in ruins owing to its being near the stream, and has stood roofless for many years, watered by the rains and scorched by the sun. Nevertheless, the painting has stood as if it had been protected, such is the quality offers cowork when well done and not retouched a secco. In the hall of the palace of the Signoria, which contains the marvellous clock of Lorenzo della Volpaia, Domenico 13 painted a number of Florentine saints richly adorned. So fond was he of work and so anxious to please that he directed his pupils to accept whatever commissions should be brought to his workshop, even though it were hoops for the women's baskets, declaring that if they would not paint them he would do it himself, and that no one should leave his shop dissatisfied. When household cares were laid upon him he complained bitterly, and for this reason he entrusted all expenditure to his brother David, saying: "Leave me to work while you make provision, because, now that I have begun to master my art, I feel sorry that I am not employed to paint the entire circuit of the walls of Florence," thus displaying his determined and resolute spirit. For S. Martino at Lucca he did a picture of SS. Peter and Paul. 14 He did the front of the principal chapel of the abbey of Settimo outside Florence in fresco, and two panels in tempera on the screen of the church. In Florence he did many pictures, both round and square, which are not to he seen because they are in private houses. He decorated the incline at the high altar in the Duomo of Pisa, and worked at many places in that city, representing on the front of the opera the scene when King Charles, a portrait from life, protects the city. 15 In S. Girolamo he did two pane in tempera for the Jesuits, one of them for the high altar. In the same place there is a picture ‚by him of St. Roch and St. Sebastian, 16 given to the fathers by some member of the Medici family, for which reason they have decorated it with the arms of Pope Leo X.

It is said that when Domenico was drawing antiquities at Rome, such as arches, baths, columns, colosseums, amphitheatres, aqueducts, etc., his drawing was so exact that he was able to work with his eye unaided by rule or compass, and that the dimensions were as accurate as if he had measured them. When he drew the colosseum he introduced a figure to scale ‚which, when it was tested by the masters after his death, proved most correct. Over a door in the cemetery at S. Maria Nuova he painted in fresco a St. Michael armed, the reflection on the armour being excellent, an effect little practiced before his day. At the abbey of Passignano of the monks Vallombrosa he did some things in conjunction with his brother David and withBastiano da S. Gimignano. Before he arrived the monks entertained the others badly, and they requested the abbot to cause them to be better served, as it was not right that they should be treated like workmen. The abbot promised, and excused himself on the ground that it was due to the ignorance of the monks in charge, and not through malice. Domenico arrived, and there was no alteration, so that David, meeting the abbot one day, complained again, saying that he did not do this for his own sake, but on account of the merits and talents of his brother. The abbot, like a fool, could make no reply. That evening, when they sat down to supper, the forestarius came in with a tray full of porringers and coarse pastry, just as he had done before. At this David rose in a rage, emptied the soup on the friar's head, and, taking the bread off the table, struck him with it, so that he was carried half-dead to his cell. The abbot, who was already in bed, ran down on hearing the noise, believing that the monastery was falling. On finding the friar in such a sorry plight, he began to rail at David. Infuriated at this, David replied, telling him to be gone and that Domenico was worth more than all the swinish abbots who had ever lived in the monastery. The abbot, thinking better of the matter, endeavoured from that moment to treat the artists more according to their worth. When this work was completed; Domenico returned to Florence and painted a picture for the Sig. di Carpi, and sent another to Rimini to Carlo Malatesta, who put it in his chapel in S. Domenico. 17 This painting was in tempera, representing three figures, and small scenes beneath, and bronze coloured figures behind, executed with great art. He did two other pictures for the Camaldolite abbey of S. Giusto outside Volterra, at the command of Lorenzo the Magnificent, very beautiful works. 18 This was because the Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, Lorenzo's son, who afterwards became Leo X., held the abbey in commendam. This abbey was restored a few years ago by the Very Rev. M. Gio. Battista Bava of Volterra, who also held it in commendam to the congregation of Camaldoli. By Lorenzo's influence Domenico afterwards went to Siena, the prince giving security for the 20,000 ducats required for doing the facade of the Duomo in mosaic. 19 Domenico set to work with good courage and in his best style. But, being cut off by death, he left it unfinished, just as the chapel of St. Zanobius at Florence was interrupted by the death of Lorenzo, after Domenico had begun to decorate it with mosaics, 20 with the assistance of Gherardo the illuminator. Over the side door of S. Maria del Fiore leading to the Servites there is a very fine Annunciation in mosaic by Domenico, 21 and nothing better has been produced by modern masters. Domenico used to say that painting was design, but that the true painting for eternity was mosaic. Bastiano Mainardi of S. Gimignano remained with him to learn, and became a very skilful master in fresco. He accompanied Domenico to S. Gimignano, and there they painted the beautiful chapel of St. Fina. 22 Pleased with the submissiveness and good behaviour of Bastiano, Domenico considered him worthy to marry one of his sisters; and thus their friendship was converted into relationship, the liberality of the master rewarding the skill acquired by the pupil through his labours. From a cartoon prepared by Domenico, Bastiano painted in the Chapel of the Baroncelli and Bandini in S. Croce Our Lady ascending into heaven with St. Thomas beneath receiving her girdle, a beautiful work in fresco. The two together painted a number of scenes with small figures in a chamber of the palace of the Spannocchi at Siena‚; and at Pisa, besides the niche in the Duomo already mentioned, they did the arch of that chapel, filling it with angels, painted the organ shutters and began to gild the ceiling. When they were about to do some very considerable works at Pisa and Siena Domenico fell sick of a fever, which carried him off in five days. Whilst he lay ill, the Tornabuoni sent him a gift of 100 ducats of gold, showing their friendship and good-will, and a sense of the services which Domenico had rendered to their house. He lived forty-four years, and was lamented deeply by his brothers David and Benedetto and his son Ridolfo. They buried him in S. Maria Novella, the loss being deeply felt by his friends. When his death became known many noted foreign artists wrote letters of sympathy to his relations. He left as his pupils David and Benedetto Ghirlandai, Bastiano Mainardi of S. Gimignano, Michelagnolo Buonarroti ofFlorence, Francesco Granaccio, Niccolo Cieco, Jacopo del Tedesco, Jacopo dell' Indaco, Baldino Baldinetti, and other masters, all Florentines. He died in 1493. Domenico enriched the modern art of working in mosaic infinitely more than any other Tuscan, as his works, though few, amply demonstrate. On this account he deserves high rank and honour in his profession and more than customary praise after his death.

  • 1 Stefano Lunetti.
  • 2 Domenico Bigordi
  • 3 1480.
  • 4 1483-6.
  • 5 Accademia, Florence; painted 1485.
  • 6 Uffizi Gallery; painted 1480.
  • 7 Louvre; Painted 1491.
  • 8 In 1488.
  • 9 In1480.
  • 10 In 1481.
  • 11 The figure is Gentile de'Becchi, bishop of Arezzo.
  • 12 Her daughter.
  • 13 Now in the Pinacothek, Munich.
  • 14 1482-4.
  • 15 In 1479.
  • 16 Probably by David Ghirlandajo, as Charles VIII. of France was not there until 1495, a year after Domenico's death.
  • 17 Now in the Museo Civico, Pisa.
  • 18 Now in the Palazzo del Comune. The figures are SS. Vincenzio, Ferrario, Sebastian and Roch.
  • 19 There is a Christ in Glory in the Municipio, Volterra, painted in 1492.
  • 20 The work was done by David Ghirlandajo, the contract being signed in 1493.
  • 21 Also by David, begun in 1492.
  • 22 In 1475.
  • 23 In 1473.

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