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“Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni” by Domenico Ghirlandaio

Ghirlandaio-Giovanna Tornabuoni cropped

“Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni” by Domenico Ghirlandaio portrays Giovanna degli Albizzi, a Florentine noblewoman. She died in childbirth, giving birth to her second child in 1488, and this painting was painted after her death. Her husband Lorenzo Tornabuoni was deeply stricken by grief and commissioned this portrait of his wife in order to commemorate and honour her memory.

This panel is a masterful example of late 1400’s Florentine portraiture. Giovanna has been identified thanks to her other portraits where she has the same hairstyle and by a medallion showing her likeness and her name.  Giovanna is depicted in a traditional profile pose, which was favoured due to its association with ancient coins and medallions.

The portrait follows the classical style of the period when the body proportions were idealised, and the faces conveyed character without expression. She is wearing a richly embroidered dress and in the background, are a selection of her personal belongings, a hanging coral rosary and a prayers book. The Latin inscription, taken from an epigram by the 1st century AD poet Martial and the Roman numerals represent the date of his death. The English translation is:

“…Would that you, Art, could portray her character and spirit; for then there would be no fairer painting in the world..”

Domenico Ghirlandaio was part of the Florentine Renaissance, along with Verrocchio, and Botticelli. Ghirlandaio led a large workshop through which many apprentices passed including Michelangelo. Ghirlandaio’s popularity and many commissions derived from his ability to depicted of contemporary life and portraits of contemporary people within the context of religious narratives.


Essential Facts:

  • Title:                   Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni
  • Artist:                 Domenico Ghirlandaio
  • Year:                   1488
  • Type:                  Tempera on panel
  • Period:               Dutch Golden Age
  • Dimensions:     77 cm × 49 cm (30 in × 19 in)
  • Museum:           Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

Artist Essential Facts:

  • Artist:                            Domenico di Tommaso Curradi di Doffo Bigordi
  • Born:                             1448 – Florence, Italy
  • Died:                              1494 (aged 45) – Florence, Italy
  • Buried:                          Basilica of Santa Maria Novella
  • Nationality:                  Italian
  • Movement:                   Italian Renaissance
  • Notable works:
    • Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni
    • Adoration of the Magi
    • The Adoration of the Shepherds


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



Photo Credit: 1) Domenico Ghirlandaio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons