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Portrait of a Mother

Domenico Ghirlandaio, Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

Modern Eden Gallery has put a twist on their annual portrait exhibit, asking artists to reinterpret famous historical paintings. I’m taking on Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni, from 1488 (currently in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid) I’m super excited. It’s a longtime favorite. But, like everything, there’s always more to learn, so I spent the last few days researching the painting.

Ghirlandaio was a Florentine artist contemporary to Botticelli, perhaps most remembered for being Michelangelo's teacher. He was well respected and widely admired in his day and would have been an obvious choice for the commission to paint the idealized, posthumous, portrait of of Giovanna, a young mother of a prominent family who died in childbirth. The work is significant in that its symbolism opens a window into the lives of women; the aspirations, the expectations, and the realities of daily life (and early death) at the dawn of the Renaissance.

I’ve come across several articles on Giovanna’s portrait, but none as significant as that of the Irish art historian Elaine Hoysted who, as a Phd. candidate, researched The art of death and childbirth in Renaissance Italy. Her work can be found here: and it is well worth a read.

I’m not sure what direction I’ll take with my interpretation of the painting, but there are (unfortunately) plenty of relevant themes echoed in the lives of women today.


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