Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ghirlandaio, Domenico

An Old Man and His Grandson
tempera on wood
62 x 46 cm
Musee du Louvre, Paris, France

One of Ghirlandaio's best-known works, it is considered notable for its emotional poignancy. The picture portrays an older man in a red robe, embracing a young child who is also wearing red. They sit in an interior, illuminated against a darkened wall. Behind them at right is a window through which can be seen a generalized landscape, its uneven terrain and winding roads typical of Ghirlandaio's backgrounds. An extraordinary feature of the painting is the deformity of the man's nose, evidence of rhinophyma. Ghirlandaio has presented the portrait in a naturalistic and sympathetic fashion, at variance with physiognomic theory of the era, which maintained a connection between external appearances and internal truths. Rather than implying a defect of character, An Old Man and his Grandson invites appreciation of the man's virtuousness.

Although the man's fur-lined robe and hood and the boy's elegant doublet and cap indicate a noble heritage, and despite the traditional assumption that the subjects are grandfather and grandson, their identities are unknown. While the composition is thematically related to portraiture from the Netherlands, by the mid-15th century the motif of a portrait in an interior with a landscape seen in the distance was common in Italy.

Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449 - 1494) was an Italian Renaissance painter from Florence. Among his many apprentices was Michelangelo. He is best known for his frescoes, in which he often set religious subjects in a secular setting and in which he included recognizable portraits.

The occupation of his father is, dealers of silks and related objects in small quantities. He was at first apprenticed to a jeweler or a goldsmith, most likely his own father. The nickname "Il Ghirlandaio" (garland-maker) came to him from his father, a goldsmith who was famed for creating the metallic garland-like necklaces worn by Florentine women. In his father's shop, he is said to have made portraits of the passers-by. In 1490, the Duke of Milan received a report that described a handful of good artists available for work in one region. In the report, it was suggested that he was a notable painter of panels and a master of fresco. It went on to commend his work and to describe him as an efficient and prolific artist. Ghirlandaio employed hordes of assistants - one of whom was Michelangelo - in his prosperous, family-run business.
Ghirlandaio is commonly credited with having given some early art education to Michelangelo, who cannot, however, have remained with him long. Ghirlandaio died of pestilential fever and was buried in Santa Maria Novella. He had been twice married and left six children. One of his three sons, Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, also became a noted painter.