Saturday, 13 November 2010

Ghirlandaio and Renaissance Florence

Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494),
Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
Ghirlandaio and Renaissance Florence
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
23rd June - 10th October 2010

This exhibition, centred around Ghirlandaio's portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni in the museum's permanent collection, has now ended. There remains however on the museum's website an excellent Virtual Visit of the complete exhibition, which, being on a smallish scale, consists of 5 rooms only. Highly recommended, even as an introduction to this fabulous and still underestimated painter.

Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni has traditionally been the iconic image that represents the Old Master Paintings collection of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. An absolute masterpiece within the artist’s oeuvre and within Florentine art, it perfectly and beautifully reflects Renaissance ideals of the last quarter of the fifteenth century. 

Giovanna, born on 18 December 1468, was the eighth daughter of Maso di Luca degli Albizzi and Caterina Soderini. She received the type of education considered appropriate for young women of her social status. The most important event in Giovanna’s life was her marriage to Lorenzo Tornabuoni (1468–1497), heir to an influential family with links to the Medici. Their wedding was celebrated in September 1486: the festivities were most lavish and for three days the beautiful Giovanna held centre stage. On 11 October 1487 the young couple’s first child, Giovannino, was born, but tragically, Giovanna died aged nineteen during her second pregnancy the following year. She was buried in the church of Santa Maria Novella on 7 October 1488.

Giovanna has been preserved for posterity by Domenico Ghirlandaio, who around 1489 received the commission for a posthumous portrait intended to hang permanently in a place of honour in the Palazzo Tornabuoni. The painting and its wider context are the focus of the exhibition at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Notably, Ghirlandaio emphasised three aspects of the sitter’s personality—her beauty, her role as the wife of Lorenzo, and her virtue and devoutness—which are used as the principal themes around which the present exhibition is organised.

Introduction to the exhibition by curator Gert Jan van der Sman:

Exhibition: Ghirlandaio and Renaissance FlorenceVirtual Visit
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum official exhibition guide

Frescoes in the Tornabuoni Chapel of the Santa Maria Novella (1486-90):

On 1 September 1484, Domenico Ghirlandaio and his brother Davide signed a contract with Giovanni Tornabuoni, a man whose wealth, power and noble descent ensured his position at the side of the Medici. In just four years, between 1486 and 1490, Ghirlandaio and his workshop completed a monumental work that was entirely to Tornabuoni's satisfaction.

Tornabuoni Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence
Using classical pilasters and entablatures, Ghirlandaio divided the two enormous walls under the wall rib in this Gothic chapel into six horizontally rectangular picture fields. They are placed above each other in three layers and are crowned by a pointed tympanum. The chapel's front wall, in contrast, has three high-pointed arch windows that provide room on either side for three smaller, vertically rectangular pictures, as well as the large tympanum above them. Here Ghirlandaio designed not just the colourful stained glass windows, still at their original location, he also created the altarpiece and its back. These panel paintings, however, are no longer here, they are scattered in different museums. The vaulting of the chapel contains the Evangelists. On the left wall Domenico frescoed the stories of Mary, on the right the life of St John the Baptist. Both stories unfold so smoothly, and in the context of the purest Christian tradition, that it is unnecessary to look for their guiding principle and inspiration outside the Bible and the most elementary religious teaching.

The overall conception of the chapel has been thought through carefully, right down to the direction of the light. As in the Last Supper in the church of Ognissanti, Ghirlandaio rigorously integrated into his scenes the way in which the interior was lit through the three windows: the scenes on the left wall are lit from the right, and those on the right wall from the left - as though from the real windows.

Domenico Ghirlandaio, The Birth of St Mary
Tornabuoni Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence
It was only possible for Ghirlandaio to produce such an extensive work in four years by using assistants from his large workshop. At this time his brothers, brother-in-low and several students were working there; the young Michelangelo is thought to have been working there as an assistant, though this cannot be proved. It is likely that Ghirlandaio produced all the plans, but painted only parts of the works himself. The magnificent portraits and the atmospheric, well balanced spaces in the lower picture fields suggest that Ghirlandaio himself painted them. The upper pictures are of poorer quality, here - in the dizzy heights where pictures could be seen only from a distance - he allowed others to do the painting.

With the wall and vault frescoes, panel paintings and designs for the windows, Ghirlandaio created a magnificent composite work which is a major example of chapel decoration at the end of the Quattrocento. This is the most famous and most celebrated work of Ghirlandaio, his reputation being based principally on it. The frescoes were restored in 1996.

Tornabuoni Chapel Wikipedia page

122 Paintings by Ghirlandaio at
Ghirlandaio at Web Gallery of Art

Chi vi darà più luce
A concert given at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
3rd October 2010
Laura Alcalde - soprano
Pedro Iglesias - harpsichord
Jorge Miró - viola de gamba
Xosé Luis Saqués - percussion
Running time: 57:42

A concert of secular music of the late 15th and early 16th centuries illustrating the musical scene contemporary with the works of art to be seen in the exhibition Ghirlandaio and Renaissance Florence.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this!! Wonderful images, resources and links :)