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“An Old Man and his Grandson” by Domenico Ghirlandaio

"An Old Man and his Grandson" by Domenico Ghirlandaio

“An Old Man and his Grandson” by Domenico Ghirlandaio

“An Old Man and his Grandson” by Domenico Ghirlandaio portrays an older man in a red robe, embracing a young child who is also wearing red. They sit in a room with a window through which can be seen a landscape consisting of a sculptured terrain and winding roads typical of many of Ghirlandaio’s background depictions. Although the man’s fur-lined robe and the boy’s elegant doublet and cap indicate an autocratic or wealthy family, their identities are a mystery. The identity of the sitters is no longer known. The poignancy of the image is dramatised by the contrast between the man’s weathered and wise face, and the child’s delicate profile. It is one of Ghirlandaio’s best-known works and is considered notable for its emotional poignancy and realism.

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 the practice of the era of assessing a person’s character from their outer appearance. Rather than implying a defect of character, Ghirlandaio invites appreciation of the intimacy between the older man and a child. The relationship between the two is highlighted by the placement of the child’s hand on the man’s chest, and the man’s expression. This show of affection endows the picture with emotional qualities beyond those expected from a traditional dynastic portrait.

While the composition was influenced by the portraiture from the Netherlands, by the mid-15th century the theme of a portrait in an interior with a landscape in the distance, was common in Italy.

Michelangelo and Domenico Ghirlandaio

During Michelangelo’s childhood, a team of painters had been called from Florence to the Vatican to decorate the walls of the Sistine Chapel. Among them was Domenico Ghirlandaio. In 1488, at age 13, Michelangelo was apprenticed to Ghirlandaio. When in 1489, Lorenzo de’ Medici, de facto ruler of Florence, asked Ghirlandaio for his two best pupils, Ghirlandaio sent Michelangelo and Francesco Granacci. Later in his career, Michelangelo was also called to work in the Vatican and painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The student surpassed the Master.

Domenico Ghirlandaio

Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448 – 1494) was an Italian Renaissance painter born in Florence. Ghirlandaio was part of the Florentine Renaissance, together with Verrocchio, the Pollaiolo brothers and Sandro Botticelli. Ghirlandaio led a large workshop that included his brothers, his brother-in-law and later his son. Many apprentices passed through Ghirlandaio’s studio, including Michelangelo. Ghirlandaio’s was talented in depicting contemporary life and people within the context of religious narratives, bringing him great popularity and many large commissions.

An Old Man and his Grandson

  • Title:                 An Old Man and his Grandson
  • Italian:              Ritratto di vecchio con nipote
  • Artist:               Domenico Ghirlandaio
  • Year:                1490
  • Type:                Tempera on poplar wood
  • Period:             Italian Renaissance
  • Dimensions:    Height: 62.7 cm (24.6 ″); Width: 46.3 cm (18.2 ″)
  • Museum:          Musée du Louvre

Domenico Ghirlandaio (also spelt Ghirlandajo)

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Reflections

  • A poignant portrait of sunrise and sunset?

Insights into “An Old Man and his Grandson” by Domenico Ghirlandaio

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“Tears come from the heart and not from the brain.”
– Leonardo da Vinci

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Photo Credit: 1) Domenico Ghirlandaio [Public domain]

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