Olga's Gallery

Domenico Ghirlandaio Biography


            Domenico di Tommaso Bigordi called Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449 Florence – 1494 Florence) was one of the most popular Florentine artists of his time. His father, Tommaso di Curradi Bigordi, had a business with jewellery, and Domenico started as a goldsmith. His nickname of Ghirlandaio, i. e. the "Garland-maker", came from his speciality, namely, the manufacture of  silver or gold crowns or diadems, popular with young women of Florence.

            In the 1460s thanks to the patronage of the Vespucci family, Ghirlandaio started to work independently. For his patrons he produced various works in the church of Ognissanti, Florence, including The Last Supper fresco in the refectory of Ognissanti painted in 1480.
            In 1475 he worked in San Gimignano; he painted the frescos of The Life of St. Fina in the Collegiate Church, which were still archaic in their style. But already in his Roman works in 1481-82 for the Sistine Chapel he showed himself as a watchful artist with a tranquil and even temperament, capable of organizing complicated compositions with many well arranged figures. He worked together with Botticelli, Perugino and Rosselli and painted two frescos The Calling of St. Peter and The Resurrection (now destroyed).
            The prestige of this job led to many commissions on his return to Florence including the decoration of the Sala dei Gigli in Palazzo Vecchio (1483), frescos and an altarpiece for the Sassetti Chapel in Santa Trinità (1483-1485). Ghirlandaio decorated with 6 frescos the private chapel of the Sassetti family with the Scenes from the Life of St. Francis, the patron saint of the banker Francesco Sassetti, who commissioned the work.
            The decoration of the Sassetti Chapel consisted not just of the cycle of frescos, but also of an altarpiece showing the Adoration of the Shepherds. Some details, such as figure arrangements, point to a Dutch influence, namely to Hugo van der Goes, whose Portinari Altar Ghirlandaio highly admired.
            In the late 1480s, Ghirlandaio painted a number of interesting portraits, the most remarkable of which is Old Man with a Young Boy. This panel occupies a special position in Florentine portraiture of the Early Renaissance. Never before in the name of realism had such careful attention been paid to ugly, even disfiguring detail.
           The Last Supper fresco in the refectory of Ognissanti painted in 1480, a subject he used again in San Marco, was important in the way Ghirlandaio succeeded in bringing actual architecture into the scene. His creativity reached its culmination with his work in the Tornabuoni Chapel of Santa Maria Novella (1485-1490). The work was commissioned by Giovanni Tornabuoni, a partner in the Medici bank. The fifteen frescoes of the Life of St. John the Baptist and  the Life of the Virgin, which adorn the Tornabuoni chapel, are rightfully numbered among the most celebrated in Florence. They are Ghirlandaio's most popular work, and are reckoned among the greatest Italian masterpieces. This last work was finished in 1490 by his large and busy studio, which he managed together with his brothers David and Benedetto, and which had a lot of pupils, counting Michelangelo among them.
        About 1480, Ghirlandaio married Costanza di Bartolommeo Nucci (d. 1485). From her he had two sons, Bartolommeo, born in 1481, who entered the Camaldolese Order; and Ridolfo (1483-1561), who was, like his father, a painter and a friend of Raphael. In 1488, the artist took Antonia di ser Paolo di Simone Paoli as his second wife. He died, almost suddenly, of a malignant fever, at the age of forty-five years.


Early Renaissance in Italian Art. by V. Lazarev. Moscow. 1979.
The Art of the Italian Renaissance. Architecture. Sculpture. Painting. Drawing. Könemann. 1995.
Painting of Europe. XIII-XX centuries. Encyclopedic Dictionary. Moscow. Iskusstvo. 1999.
Domenico Ghirlandaio: Artist and Artisan by Jean K. Cadogan. Yale Univ Pr, 2001.

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