“Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni” by Domenico Ghirlandaio
“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 to commemorate and honour her memory.
This panel is a masterful example of late 1400’s Florentine portraiture. Giovanna has been identified as the subject of this portrait thanks to her other named 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 followed the classical style of the period when the body proportions were idealised, and the faces conveyed character without expression. Giovanna is shown 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, a master in fresco painting, perspective, figure drawing and portraiture and had the largest workshop in Florence. Ghirlandaio’s large workshop employed and trained many apprentices, 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.
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.
- In 1488, at age 13, Michelangelo was apprenticed to Ghirlandaio, did he see this portrait being executed in the workshop?
- The profile pose was famous because it echoed ancient coins and medallions. Can you see the connection and evolution of portraiture from coins to paintings?
Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni
- 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: 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