Ghirlandajo, the ” garland-maker,” so named from the gold and silver wreaths made by the goldsmith to whom he was apprenticed, learned to paint under Baldovinetti, it is thought. In 1475, he and his brother were called to Rome to decorate the Vatican Library, and six years later he was employed in the Sistine Chapel. In the church of S. Gimignano he painted scenes from the life of S. Fina. His first work in Florence was for the Vespucci family chapel in the church of the Ognissanti. The portrait of the boy Amerigo, later to be the famous explorer, is seen on the wall recently freed from whitewash. A St. Jerome and a Last Supper are of this period, 1480. In 1485 he repeated in S. Trinità many of Giotto’s stories from the life of St. Francis. His great work is in the choir of S. Maria Novella, where all the qualities of his art may be studied. His brothers, Mainardi his brother-in-law, and his son Ridolfo studied and worked under him. For a year Michelangelo was his pupil.
The Florentine Master and his Workshop. Brown, Fine Arts, 94-109.
NOTES ON THE PICTURES.
No. 195. Death of St. Francis.
Sassetti Chapel, S. Trinità, Florence.
The chapel of the Sassetti family, to the right of the high altar, was decorated in 1485 with six scenes from the life of St. Francis, patron saint of the wealthy banker who ordered them. The funeral of the saint is the finest of the series.
The architectural setting and the arrangement of the figures shows careful study of perspective. The portraits introduced are less disturbing than oftentimes in Ghirlandajo’s work. The young skeptic who leans over the saint to assure himself of the truth of the Stigmata is a new and rather distracting element. The picture should be compared in every point with Giotto’s fresco in S. Croce, 73. Notice especially the point to which the eye is drawn in each picture.
No. 205. Nativity. Academy, Florence.
Tempera on wood. 5 feet 5 inches square. Painted in 1485 for the altar of the Sassetti Chapel, where it is now replaced by a copy. This is the best easel painting by Ghirlandajo. Its color is bright and clear, untouched by the years.
The beauty of the Madonna and Child, the actuality of the faces of the shepherds and of the animals, the classic sarcophagus, pilasters and arch, the train of the Magi, winding down the road, and the distant landscape painted with minutest care but entirely lacking in atmosphere, are all points to be studied.
No. 196. Scenes from the life of John the Baptist.
No. 198. Sacrifice of Zacharias.
No. 199. Group of Heads: detail of 198.
No. 200. Birth of John the Baptist.
No. 201. Portrait of a Lady: detail of 200.
No. 197. Presentation of the Virgin.
Choir, S. Maria Novella, Florence.
S. Maria Novella, the great Dominican church of Florence built in 1279, is a museum of early Florentine art from Cimabue to Filippino. The decorations of the choir by Orcagna had been damaged, and in 1485 the rising Tornabuoni family secured the privilege of redecorating it and gave the commission to Ghirlandajo, who completed the work in 1490. It remains as his best work.
On the left wall are scenes from the life of the Virgin, on the right of John the Baptist (196), the story beginning with the lower tiers. On either side the window wall are figures of Giovanni Tornabuoni, the donor, and his wife; above is the Coronation. Ghirlandajo was assisted in the work by Mainardi, his brothers, and other pupils. The year of Michelangelo’s apprenticeship falls in this period.
196. The scenes are: 1. Zacharias in the Temple. 2. Visitation. 3. Birth of John. 4. Naming. 5. Preaching. 6. Baptism. 7. Feast of Herod.
Study the wall as a whole, considering the effect upon it of the admirable work in perspective of each scene. Compare with Giotto’s work in Padua and in S. Croce, with Orcagna and Benozzo.
198, 199. The angel brings to Zacharias at the altar news of an heir; painted entirely by Ghirlandajo. Zacharias and the angel are but incidents in the theme, which is the portrayal of members of the Tornabuoni family arranged in descending scale of importance, with four literary men in half length at the left. Compare these faces with those of the Medici, 175 and 176; with Botticelli’s other group from the Sistine fresco, 171, noting the greater care in representing features, wrinkles, and the like, the lessened impression of character and individuality.
200, 201. By Ghirlandajo, unless perhaps the girl with the basket of fruit. The back wall has been damaged. The dignity of the three women, and the beauty of the younger one make this group the real subjects, as does their own lack of interest in the event that gives the picture its name. Compare the maid carrying the fruit with similar figures, 148, 153, 170, 183.
197. Shows the work of assistants. The little but unchildlike figures in the foreground are difficult to explain. Compare with Giotto’s Presentation, 58; the stately architecture with the symbolic temple; the technical skill in forms, drapery, movement, perspective with Giotto’s lack of knowledge; the suggestiveness, concentration of interest and simple sincerity of the early master with the consciousness of an audience in this work of two centuries later.
No. 202. Calling of the Disciples.
Sistine Chapel, Vatican, Rome.
For description of the Sistine Chapel, see p. 132. Fresco painted in 1482 or 1483. Another near the door has perished.
The figure of Christ is repeated three times, but so arranged as not to confuse the composition. Most of the figures are portraits of distinguished men of the day, arranged as spectators instead of actors in the scene, as in Botticelli’s similar frescos. Compare 170172 in these respects. Consider also their relative value as wall decorations.
Compare with Masaccio’s work in the Brancacci Chapel. Note in this and in all of Ghirlandajo’s work the dignity of his figures and their decorum, the admirable way in which they stand, the simple honesty of the draperies, the artist’s complete understanding of perspective.
No. 203. Last Supper.
Refectory, S. Marco, Florence.
Fresco, figures life size. Very similar to the earlier one, painted in 1480 and much restored, in the refectory of the Ognissanti, except that individual movement on the part of each disciple has been given up. Judas is placed by himself, as in earlier pictures.
Note the admirable balance, the dignity and the decorative value of the work, its monotony and the absence of emotional appeal. The birds in the sky are often repeated by Ghirlandajo.
No. 204. Visitation.
Tempera on wood, figures life size. Commissioned by Lorenzo Tornabuoni for his chapel in S. Maria Maddelena dei Pazzi, Florence. It was begun by Ghirlandajo, but finished by pupils. The design is admirable, the colors inharmonious though clear and effective. The brooch which Mary wears, a great carbuncle set with pearls, appears often in Ghirlandajo’s pictures. The two Marys stand on either side.
No. 206. Old Man and Child.
On wood, 2 by 11 feet, probably an early work. The red robe of the old man is an ancient dress of Florentine magistrates.
The affectionate confidence of the little fair-haired child and the kindliness of the homely old grandfather make this a delightful ” human document,” despite the repellent features. Compare the landscape with that in 205.
Cosimo Rosselli. 1439-1507. Piero di Cosimo. 1462-1521.
Cosimo Rosselli worked as a boy in the picture factory of Neri di Bicci; later he may have come under the influence of Benozzo Gozzoli. He painted one scene, a Vision of St. Philip Benizzi, in the atrium of the Annunziata. Three of the series of the Sistine Chapel are by him, Giving the Law to the Jews, and to the Christians (Sermon on the Mount), and the Last Supper, now much repainted. He greatly pleased the Pope by his lavish use of gold. Fra Bartolommeo as a child was in Rosselli’s shop. His favorite pupil, however, was Piero di Cosimo, who took his master’s name and is believed to have painted the backgrounds for his frescos in the Sistine. He was a man of strong personality, and delighted in painting fantastic scenes from classic mythology on panels and cassoni for Florentine homes. The two of Perseus and Andromeda for Filippo Strozzi, now in the Uffizi, were painted in oil. The most probable portrait of ” la bella Simonetta,” now in Chantilly, is attributed to Piero.
No. 193. Madonna, Child, and Saints.
On wood, figures life size. Painted in 1505 for S. Maria Maddelena dei Pazzi. St. James stands on the left, St. Peter on the right. Sometimes called a Coronation.
Notice the beauty and dignity of the Madonna’s face, the interesting and unusual types of the saints’ faces, the emphasis upon architectural detail and symmetry, the lack of grace and beauty in the angels.
No. 194. Scenes in the Life of Moses.
Sistine Chapel, Vatican, Rome.
Fresco painted 1481-1485. See p. 132. Rosselli painted also the pendant scene, across the chapel, of the Sermon on the Mount. Moses receiving and breaking the tables of the law, and the worship of the Golden Calf, are the principal incidents. The unnatural mass of rock in the center divides the composition and con-fuses the scene. The dancing women at the right and Joshua, who stands behind Moses, are fine figures.
No. 220. Passage of the Red Sea: detail.
Sistine Chapel, Vatican, Rome.
This fresco, formerly attributed to Rosselli, is now given to his pupil Piero di Cosimo. Under the figure of the overthrow of Pharaoh it commemorates the victory of the papal forces under Roberto Malatesta over the Duke of Calabria in 1482. The successful general is seen here in armor; facing him is his captain Virginio Orsini. All the faces of this central group are interesting and unusual. We see again the favorite motive of the hastening woman.
No. 221. Nativity.
Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin.
About 4 1/2 feet square. Very unusual in its types. The Madonna has much beauty. Note the faces of the shepherds.