Domenico Ghirlandaio was one of contemporaries of Sandro Botticelli during the 15th century, whose birth date was unknown. He was famous for his mastery of painting frescoes for various cathedrals in Italy, particularly in Tuscany, Florence and Rome. Only a few works of Ghirlandaio had survived though, making him less popular than Botticelli, Fra Filippo Lippi, among other Florentine painters.
To be fair, Ghirlandaio had left us with his magnificent execution of Saint Jerome in His Study (1480) and several frescoes in Ognissanti Church in Florence, the grandiose Last Supper, Christ in Glory with Romuald and other Saints in Volterra, the Adoration of the Magi in Innocenti Church, among many others.
Domenico’s given name was Domenico di Tommaso Curradi di Doffo Bigordi. He was the eldest son of Tommaso Bigordi’s eight children. Thus, he had his brothers as his first collaborators in the arts, maintaining a good relationship with them during his younger years. It can’t be helped that his father was also a seasoned setaiuolo a minuto, traders of textile products like silks that were available in retail.
It is worth mentioning that Domenico’s father was a goldsmith. The Florentine painter spent most of his adolescent days providing assistance to his father’s studio. And because of his apprenticeship to his father, the title “Il-Ghirlandaio” or the Garland-Maker was passed onto him. This eventually made Domenico famous, a rising star for making garland-inspired headdresses for women.
However, it seemed that he found deeper love and connection to painting portraits of his father’s visitors and passers-by. This potential in painting earned him an apprenticeship to Alesso Baldovinetti and Andrea Del Verrocchio. Under these mentors, Domenico was able to make the most of his skills and talent in mosaic and painting.
During the 1470’s, Domenico had been contracted for painting wall decorations of the Chapel of Santa Fina in Collegiate Church. He finished this fresco project within a year and then he moved onto making his most popular work of art; Saint Jerome in His Study. This notable painting was executed in 1480, with a goal to give companion to the painting of Saint Augustine in His Study established in Florence’s Church of Ognissanti.
St. Jerome in His Study was then followed by a series of commissions by Pope Sixtus IV in Rome. Domenico went to Rome to fresco the walls of the Sistine Chapel alongside various collaborators from Umbria and Florence. He was responsible for painting the Vocation of the Apostles, Resurrection of Christ and The Crossing of the Red Sea, all of which were completed in 1483.
In Tuscany, Domenico Ghirlandaio had done impressive works for the Sassetti Chapel (Santa Trinita) in 1485. This six-part project was commissioned by the banker Francesco Sassetti. The paintings depicted the life story of Saint Francis of Assisi, particularly the events that took place during the reign of Pope Honorius and Francis’ death. Additionally, Domenico also manned the execution of the Chapel’s altarpiece entitled the Adoration of the Shepherds circa 1485.
During the last few years of his professional career (from 1488 – 1491) before retiring, Ghirlandaio focused on creating panel portraits of well-known men and women like those of Giovanna Tornabuoni, Lorenzo II de’ Medici, Angolo Poliziano, Marsilio Ficino, and so on.
Domenico Ghirlandaio passed away in 1494 due to the so-called “pestilential fever”, leaving his six sons with his second wife. His remains were brought to Santa Maria Novella to be buried over there. He died in January of the said year, and thus historians believed that Domenico must have been 45 years old by that time.