Of course all this symbolism is even more interesting as I prepare for my ceremony! In this blog post the author discusses the elements of Ghirlandiao’s portrait of Giovanna Tornaburoni.
“Giovanna was the wife of Lorenzo Tornabuoni who came from the wealthy Florentine banking family and whose father, Giovanni was Domenico Ghirlandaio’s patron. We know this is the image of Giovanna as at the time of her marriage to Lorenzo a series of bronze portrait medals with her image were made to commemorate the event and the likeness of the figure on the medal and in the painting is undeniable. Lorenzo and Giovanna married in June 1486 but sadly she died giving birth to her second son in 1488, at just twenty years of age. As the portrait was completed after she died, it is thought that it could be looked upon as a kind of remembrance painting. The painting hung in her husband’s private rooms in the Tornabuoni Palace.
We see Giovanna before us, half-length, in a somewhat rigid profile. In her hands she clasps a handkerchief. Giovanna is dressed in the most sumptuous way. She wears a giornea which is an open-sided over-gown, which is brocaded. The design on the brocade features the letter “L” and a diamond. The “L” is her husband, Lorenzo’s initial and the diamond was the Tornabuoni family emblem. There is no doubt that she is one of Florence’s élite by the way she wears her hair in the very latest Florentine fashion. The jewels she wears around her neck comprise of two rings and pendant which were given to her by Lorenzo’s family as a wedding gift. If you look closely at the pendant she wears you will also notice a matching brooch designed in the shape of a dragon which lies on a shelf behind her. The jewel with its dragon, two pearls and a ruby formed a set with the pendant hanging from a silk cord around her neck. Behind her, on the shelf, is a prayer book which is thought to be the libriccino da donna (little ladies’ book). Above the book hangs a string of coral beads which have been identified as a rosary. Ghirlandaio’s inclusion of this prayer book and the rosary in the painting was testament to Giovanna’s religious beliefs and her piety.
What did Ghirlandaio think of his sitter? Will we ever know? Actually the answer lies within the painting itself because just behind Giovanna’s neck we can see attached to the shelf a cartellino. A cartellino (Italian for small piece of paper) was a piece of parchment or paper painted illusionistically, often as though attached to a wall or parapet in a painting. On the cartellino added by Ghirlandaio in this painting are the words:
ARS UTINAM MORES
ANIMUMQUE QUE EFFINGERE
POSSES PULCHRIOR IN TERRIS NULLA TABELLA FORET
which translates to:
“…Would that you, Art, could portray her character and spirit ; for then there would be no fairer painting in the world..”.
At the bottom there is the date:
By these words there is no doubt Ghirlandaio is excusing himself to Giovanna for his belief that he has not been able to show her real inner beauty. These are fine words from our artist but in fact they were not quite his own as they are a slight variation on the words of an epigram (a short and concise poem) of the Latin poet Marcus Galerius Martial, whose works were all the rage with the Florentine aristocracy of the day.
My featured artist today was born Domenico di Tommaso Curradi di Doffo Bigordi. The name was derived in part from his father’s surname Curadi and the surname of his grandfather Bigordi. He was born in Florence in 1449, the eldest child of Tommaso Bigordi and Antonia di ser Paolo Paoli. His father was a goldsmith and was well-known for creating metallic garland-like necklaces which were worn by the ladies of Florence, and it was for that reason that Domenico was given the nickname Il Ghirlandaio (garland-maker). Domenico worked in his father’s jewellery shop and it was during his time there that he started sketching portraits of customers and passers-by. According to the famous biographer of artists, Giorgio Vasari, Domenico’s father decided to afford his son some formal artistic training and had him apprenticed to the Florentine painters, Alesso Baldovinetti and later Andrea del Verrocchio.
Domenico will always be remembered for his exquisite detailed narrative frescos in which he would incorporate portraits of the local aristocracy resplendent in their finery. Many of his frescos appeared in local Florentine churches. In 1482, he also completed a Vatican commission for Pope Sixtus IV – a fresco in the Sistine Chapel entitled Calling of the First Apostles. The frescos he will probably be best remembered for were two major fresco cycles, which he completed with the help of his brothers, Davide and Benedetto along with his brother-in-law, Bastiano Mainardi, who was one of Domenico’s pupils.”
When you walk around an art gallery I wonder how long you spend in front of each painting. I suppose it depends on the type of painting and whether it is part of a crowded special exhibition when you are jostled from one painting to the next by a crowded sea of viewers. I suppose it also depends on your time management as if you are coming to the end of your allotted time you tend to jump from one picture to the next in a desperate attempt to not miss a single one, although in a way your hurried state probably means that the last few painting remain just a blur in your mind. So why do I ask this question about time management and carefully appreciating the paintings before us? The answer is that during a recent visit…
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