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Ghirlandaio, Domenico

Ghirlandaio, Domenico 1449-1494 Italian fresco painter, born in Florence; greatest of a family of Florentine painters; tendency toward realism and individual expression; scenes from life of St. Francis and ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’ (1485) in Sassetti Chapel, St. Trinita Church, Florence.

The Life of Domenico Ghirlandaio

Domenico Ghirlandaio> (1449 – January 11, 1494) was a Florentine painter from the Renaissance and a contemporary of Botticelli and Filippino Lippi, head of the large and prosperous workshop. He studied with Baldovinetti and later taught Michelangelo


Early life

His full name is given as Domenico di Tommaso Curradi di Doffo Bigordi; it appears therefore that his father’s surname was Curradi, and his grandfather’s Bigordi. The painter is generally termed Domenico Bigordi, but some authors give him, and apparently with reason, the paternal surname Curradi. Ghirlandajo (garland-maker) was only a nickname, coming to Domenico from the employment of his father (or else of his earliest instructor), who was renowned for fashioning the metallic garlands worn by Florentine damsels; he was not, however, as some have said, the inventor of them. Tommaso was by vocation a jeweller on the Ponte Vecchio, or perhaps a broker.

Domenico, the eldest of eight children, was at first apprenticed to a jeweler or goldsmith, probably enough his own father; in his shop he was continually making portraits of the passers-by, and it was thought expedient to place him with Alessio Baldovinetti to study painting and mosaic. His youthful years were, however, entirely undistinguished, and at the age of thirty-one be had not a fixed abode of his own. This is remarkable, as immediately afterwards, from 1480 onwards to his death at a comparatively early age in 1494, he became the most proficient painter of his time, incessantly employed, and condensing into that brief period of fourteen years fully as large an amount of excellent work as any other artist that could be named; indeed, we should properly say eleven years, for nothing of his is known of a later date than 1491.

His grand works in Florence

In 1480 Ghirlandajo painted a Saint Jerome and other frescoes in the church of Ognissanti, Florence, and a life-sized Last Supper in its refectory, noticeable for individual action and expression. From 1481 to 1485 he was employed upon frescoes in the Sala dell Orologio in the Palazzo Vecchio; he painted the apotheosis of St Zenobius, a work beyond the size of life, with much architectural framework, figures of Roman heroes and other detail, striking in perspective and structural propriety. While still occupied here, he was summoned to Rome by Pope Sixtus IV to paint in the Sixtine Chapel; he went thither in 1483. In the Sixtine he executed, probably before 1484, a fresco which has few rivals in that series, Christ calling Peter and Andrew to their Apostleship, a work which, though somewhat deficient in color, has greatness of method and much excellence of finish. The landscape background, in especial, is very superior to anything to be found in the works, which had no doubt been zealously studied by Ghirlandajo, of Masaccio and others in the Brancacci Chapel. He also did some other works in Rome, now perished. Before 1485 he had likewise produced his frescoes in the chapel of S. Fina, in the Tuscan town of S. Gimignano, remarkable for grandeur and grace, two pictures of Fina, dying and dead, with some accessory work. Sebastian Mainardi assisted him in these productions in Rome and in S. Gimignano; and Ghirlandajo was so well pleased with his co-operation that he gave him his sister in marriage.

He now returned to Florence, and undertook in the church of the Trinita, and afterwards in S. Maria Novella, the works which have set the seal on his celebrity. The frescoes in the Sassetti chapel of S. Trinita are six subjects from the life of St Francis, along with some classical accessories, dated 1485. Three of the principal incidents are St Francis obtaining from Pope Honorius the approval of the Rules of his Order; his Death and Obsequies, and the Resuscitation, by the interposition of the beatified saint, of a child of the Spini family, who had been killed by falling out of a window. In the first work is a portrait of Lorenzo de Medici; and in the third the painters own likeness, which he introduced also into one of the pictures in S. Maria Novella, and in the Adoration of the Magi in the hospital of the Innocenti. The altarpiece of the Sassetti chapel, the Adoration of the Shepherds, is now in the Florentine Academy. Immediately after disposing of this commission, Ghirlandajo was asked to renew the frescoes in the choir of S. Maria Novella. This choir formed the chapel of the Ricci family, but the Tornabuoni and Tornaquinci families, then much more opulent than the Ricci, undertook the cost of the restoration, under conditions, as to preserving the arms of the Ricci, which gave rise in the end to some amusing incidents of litigation. The frescoes, in the execution of which Domenico had many assistants, are in four courses along the three walls,the leading subjects being the lives of the Madonna and of the Baptist. Besides their general richness and dignity of art, these works are particularly interesting as containing many historical portraitsa method of treatment in which Ghirlandajo was preeminently skilled.

There are no less than twenty-one portraits of the Tornabuoni and Tornaquinci families; in the subject of the Angel appearing to Zacharias, those of Politian, Marsilio Ficino and others; in the Salutation of Anna and Elizabeth, the beautiful Ginevra de Benci; in the Expulsion of Joachim from the Temple, Mainardi and Baldovinetti (or the latter figure may perhaps be Ghirlandajo’s father).

The Ricci chapel was reopened and completed in 1490; the altarpiece, now removed from the chapel, was probably executed with the assistance of Domenico’s brothers, David and Benedetto, painters of ordinary caliber; the painted window was from Domenico’s own design. Other distinguished works from his hand are an altar-piece in tempera of the Virgin Adored by Sts Zenobius, Justus and others, painted for the church of St Justus, but now in the Uffizi gallery, a remarkable masterpiece; Christ in Glory with Romuald and other Saints, in the Badia of Volterra; the Adoration of the Magi, in the church of the Innocenti (already mentioned), perhaps his finest panel-picture (1488); and the Visitation, in the Louvre, bearing the latest ascertained date (1491) of all his works. Ghirlandajo did not often attempt the nude; one of his pictures of this character, Vulcan and his Assistants forging Thunderbolts, was painted for Lo Spedaletto, but (like several others specified by Vasari) it exists no longer. Two portraits by him are in the National Gallery, London. The mosaics which he produced date before 1491; one, of especial celebrity, is the Annunciation, on a portal of the cathedral of Florence.

General considerations and assessment

In general artistic attainment Ghirlandajo may fairly be regarded as exceeding all his precursors or competitors; though the names of a few, particularly Giotto, Masaccio, Lippo Lippi and Botticelli, stand higher for originating power. His scheme of composition is grand and decorous; his chiaroscuro excellent, and especially his perspectives, which he would design on a very elaborate scale by the eye alone; his color is more open to criticism, but this remark applies much less to the frescoes than the tempera-pictures, which are sometimes too broadly and crudely bright. He worked in these two methods alone never in oils; and his frescoes are what the Italian’s term buon fresco, without any finishing in tempera.

A certain hardness of outline, not unlike the character of bronze sculpture, may attest his early training in metal work. He first introduced into Florentine art that mixture of the sacred and the profane which had already been practised in Siena. His types in figures of Christ, the Virgin and angels are not of the highest order; and a defect of drawing, which has been often pointed out, is the meagreness of his hands and feet. It was one of his maxims that painting is designing. Ghirlandajo was an insatiate worker, and expressed a wish that he had the entire circuit of the walls of Florence to paint upon. He told his shop-assistants not to refuse any commission that might offer, were it even for a lady’s petticoat-panniers: if they would not execute such work, he would. Not that he was in any way glasping or sordid in moneymatters, as is proved by the anecdote of the readiness with which he gave up a bonus upon the stipulated price of the Ricci chapel frescoes, offered by the wealthy Tornabuoni in the first instance, but afterwards begrudged.

Vasari says that Ghirlandajo was the first to abandon in great part the use of gilding in his pictures, representing by genuine painting any objects supposed to be gilded; yet this does not hold good without some considerable exceptions the high lights of the landscape, for instance, in the Adoration of the Shepherds, now in the Florence Academy, being put in in gold. Many drawings and sketches by this painter are in the Uffizi gallery, remarkable for vigour of outline. One of the great glories of Ghirlandajo is that he gave some early art education to Michelangelo, who cannot, however, have remained with him long.

This renowned artist died of pestilential fever on the 11th of January 1494, and was buried in S. Maria Novella. He had been twice married, and left six children, three of them being sons. He had a long and honorable line of descendants, which came to a close in the 17th century, when the last members of the race entered monasteries. It is probable that Domenico died poor; he appears to have been gentle, honorable and conscientious, as well as energetically diligent.

A touch of “Swan Song” and a dash of “The Stand”…Very good post-apocalyptic tale in the mode and mood of R. McCammon’s “Swan Song” and S. King’s “The Stand”. ★★★★★

Excerpt from Troop of Shadows:

Colleyville, Texas

Dani cursed the weight of her backpack. The final two items from the ransacked Walgreens, crammed in as an afterthought ten minutes ago, might cost her everything. After surviving the last twelve months of hell only to be thwarted now by a can of Similac and a twelve-pack of Zest soap, would be sadly anticlimactic. Despite running at a full sprint down a dark suburban street, dodging overflowing garbage cans while eluding three men who would steal her hard-won tubes of Neosporin and likely rape and kill her in the process, she snorted at the thought of a fictional headline: Young Woman’s Life Ends Tragically but Zestfully Clean.

Damn it, she would ditch the backpack. She could come back tomorrow night for it, but right now staying alive outweighed any future benefit its contents might provide. As her pursuers rounded the corner behind her, she darted across the front lawn of a house and leaped over a cluster of dead juniper shrubs. A year ago, those shrubs had been green, manicured, and providing curb appeal to the upscale neighborhood; they functioned now as a hurdle component in the obstacle course Dani navigated on most nights.

She angled toward the side of the house and around the corner, only to come to an abrupt stop next to a six-foot barricade. Residents of these sprawling bedroom communities situated between Dallas and Fort Worth clung to their privacy fences as fiercely as their rural counterparts did to their firearms. Why all those day-trading dads and cheerleader moms required such secrecy was beyond Dani. She didn’t care. All that mattered was how difficult they made her nightly forages. Only idiots or people with a death wish traveled alone on the streets anymore. The clever ones navigated through backyards and drainage ditches, shadowed easements and alleyway, avoiding open spaces and other humans.

Especially humans traveling in groups.

Stealth and caution were second nature to her now, and she was pissed at herself for loading up the backpack with more weight than she could easily carry at a full run.

Rookie mistake.

She flung the pack into the undergrowth of a once meticulous garden, making a mental note of the enormous red tip photinia which camouflaged the bundle in a leafy shroud. She hoped to be alive the next day to retrieve it.

She clambered up the fence, finding a toehold on a warped plank, and squirmed over the top. A silver fingernail of a moon did little to illuminate the backyard. Weak starlight reflected off the inky surface of a half-empty, kidney-shaped swimming pool. Her Nikes gripped the concrete deck as she skirted the murky water and made a beeline for the back of the yard that was, of course, separated from its neighbor by a privacy fence. It was a tall one too — a full ten feet. There were no bushes or trees to use for leverage either. She scanned the area for anything that might serve as a step ladder.

Of all the yards she could have chosen for her escape, she’d picked one with a damn ten-foot fence.

Her heart raced from the sprint, but not from panic. Gone was the young woman from a year ago, the full-time floundering college dropout and part-time surly Starbucks barista who spent too much time reading books and not enough time looking for a job that would allow her to move out of her parents’ house. She was too smart for her own good, everyone had told her. She should have taken that secretarial position in North Dallas, but she would have lost her sanity in that environment. The tedious filing, the ringing phones, the office politics — in other words, hell on earth for a girl with an IQ over a hundred and fifty.

Despite the recent horrors, she’d come into her own at last, after twenty-one years of meandering through life unfocused and unchallenged. The extra twenty pounds she’d been carrying courtesy of Freddy’s cheeseburgers and Taco Bell burritos were gone, thanks to her newfound self-discipline and endless hours of Krav Maga training with Sam. Not only had she transformed her body, she’d elevated and strengthened her mind as well. Before the power had gone out, she’d watched countless tutorials on T’ai Chi, Qigong, and Buddhist meditation. During that same window — when people were beginning to get sick, but before most of them had died — she’d combed book stores and libraries within a fifteen-mile radius. When the country went dark and people realized that life-saving information was no longer available with a few keystrokes, Dani had amassed reference material on subjects as diverse as hydroponics and combat first aid, ancient meat drying techniques and bomb making. Between martial arts lessons with Sam, she spent every spare minute absorbing the printed esoteric knowledge like a greedy lizard on a sun-drenched rock.

Knowledge was survival.

When the first of the men slithered over the fence into the backyard, she hadn’t found anything to use as a foothold. Another figure followed behind him. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and released it from her lungs, slow and measured, then took off at a full run toward them. While she ran, fingers slid down to a leather sheath secured to her belt. Two seconds before she reached the first of her would-be assailants, a Ka-Bar — the grandaddy of tactical knives — was in her hand.

Dani used momentum and every ounce of her one-hundred-twenty pound frame to slam the first man into the second, knocking both assailants off-balance and unprepared for her next move: a vicious stab to the groin of the first. He collapsed to his knees. She followed with a backhand movement, opening up the throat of his companion. A similar gesture to the man with the injured groin silenced his moaning.

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