GHIRLANDAIO! what a difficult name that sounds to
our English ears. But it has a very simple meaning,
and when you understand it the difficulty will
It all happened in this way. Domenico's father
was a goldsmith, one of the cleverest goldsmiths
in Florence, and he was specially famous for making
garlands or wreaths of gold and silver. It was the
fashion then for the young maidens of Florence to
wear these garlands, or 'ghirlande' as they were
called, on their heads, and because this goldsmith
made them better than any one else they gave him
the name of Ghirlandaio, which means 'maker of
garlands,' and that became the family name.
When the time came for the boy Domenico to
learn a trade, he was sent, of course, to his father's
workshop. He learned so quickly, and worked with
such strong, clever fingers, that his father was
'The boy will make the finest goldsmith of his
day,' he said proudly, as he watched him twisting
the delicate golden wire and working out his designs
in beaten silver.
So he was set to make the garlands, and for a while
he was contented and happy. It was such exquisite
 work to twine into shape the graceful golden leaves,
with here and there a silver lily or a jewelled rose,
and to dream of the fair head on which the garland
But the making of garlands did not satisfy
Domenico for long, and like Botticelli he soon
began to dream of becoming a painter.
You must remember that in those days goldsmiths
and painters had much in common, and often worked
together. The goldsmith made his picture with
gold and silver and jewels, while the painter drew
his with colours, but they were both artists.
So as the young Ghirlandaio watched these men
draw their great designs and listened to their talk,
he began to feel that the goldsmith's work was
cramped and narrow, and he longed for a larger,
grander work. Day by day the garlands were more
and more neglected, and every spare moment was
spent drawing the faces of those who came to the
shop, or even those of the passers-by.
But although, ere long, Ghirlandaio left his
father's shop and learned to make pictures with
colours, instead of with gold, silver, and jewels, still
the training he had received in his goldsmith's work
showed to the end in all his pictures. He painted
the smallest things with extreme care, and was
never tired of spreading them over with delicate
ornaments and decorations. It is a great deal the
outward show with Ghirlandaio, and not so much
the inward soul, that we find in his pictures, though
he had a wonderful gift of painting portraits.
These portraits painted by the young Ghirlandaio
 seemed very wonderful to the admiring Florentines.
From all his pictures looked out faces which they
knew and recognised immediately. There, in a
group of saints, or in a crowd of figures around the
Infant Christ, they saw the well-known faces of
Florentine nobles, the great ladies from the palaces,
ay, and even the men of the market-place, and the
poor peasant women who sold eggs and vegetables
in the streets. Once he painted an old bishop with
a pair of spectacles resting on his nose. It was the
first time that spectacles had ever been put into a
DRAWING BY GHIRLANDAIO
Then off he must go to Rome, like every one else,
to add his share to the famous frescoes of the
Vatican. But it was in Florence that most of his
work was done.
In the church of Santa Maria Novella there was
a great chapel which belonged to the Ricci family.
It had once been covered by beautiful frescoes, but
now it was spoilt by damp and the rain that came
through the leaking roof. The noble family, to
whom the chapel belonged, were poor and could not
afford to have the chapel repainted, but neither
would they allow any one else to decorate it, lest
it should pass out of their hands.
Now another noble family, called the Tournabuoni,
when they heard of the fame of the new
painter, greatly desired to have a chapel painted
by him in order to do honour to their name and
Accordingly they went to the Ricci family and
offered to have the whole chapel painted and to pay
 the artist themselves. Moreover, they said that
the arms or crest of the Ricci family should be
painted in the most honourable part of the chapel,
that all might see that the chapel still belonged to
To this the Ricci family gladly agreed, and
Ghirlandaio was set to work to cover the walls with
'I will give thee twelve hundred gold pieces when
it is done,' said Giovanni Tournabuoni, 'and if I
like it well, then shalt thou have two hundred more.'
Here was good pay indeed. Ghirlandaio set to
work with all speed, and day by day the frescoes
grew. For four years he worked hard, from
morning until night, until at last the walls were
One of the subjects which he chose for these
frescoes was the story of the Life of the Virgin, so
often painted by Florentine artists. This story I
will tell you now, that your eyes may take greater
pleasure in the pictures when you see them.
The Bible story of the Virgin Mary begins when
the Angel Gabriel came to tell her of the birth of
the Baby Jesus, but there are many stories or
legends about her before that time, and this is one
which the Italians specially loved to paint.
Among the blue hills of Galilee, in the little town
of Nazareth, there lived a man and his wife whose
names were Joachim and Anna. Though they were
rich and had many flocks of sheep which fed in the
rich pastures around, still there was one thing which
God had not given them and which they longed
 for more than all beside. They had no child. They
had hoped that God would send one, but now they
were both growing old, and hope began to fade.
Joachim was a very good man, and gave a third
of all that he had as an offering to the temple; but
one sad day when he took his gift, the high priest
at the altar refused to take it.
'God has shown that He will have nought of
thee,' said the priest, 'since thou hast no child to
come after thee.'
Filled with shame and grief Joachim would not
go home to his wife, but instead he wandered out
into the far-of fields where his shepherds were
feeding the flocks, and there he stayed forty days.
With bowed head and sad eyes when he was alone,
he knelt and prayed that God would tell him what
he had done to deserve this disgrace.
And as he prayed God sent an angel to comfort
The angel placed his hand upon the bowed head
of the poor old man, and told him to be of good
cheer and to return home at once to his wife.
'For God will even now send thee a child,' said
So with a thankful heart which never doubted
the angel's word, Joachim turned his face homewards.
Meanwhile, at home, Anna had been sorrowing
alone. That same day she had gone into the garden,
and, as she wandered among the flowers, she wept
bitterly and prayed that God would send her comfort.
Then there appeared to her also an angel, who
 told her that God had heard her prayer and would
send her the child she longed for.
'Go now,' the angel added, 'and meet thy
husband Joachim, who is even now returning to
thee, and thou shall find him at the entrance to the
So the husband and wife did as the angel
bade them, and met together at the Golden Gate.
And the Angel of Promise hovered above them,
and laid a hand in blessing upon both their heads.
There was no need for speech. As Joachim and
Anna looked into each other's eyes and read there
the solemn joy of the angel's message, their hearts
were filled with peace and comfort.
And before long the angel's promise was fulfilled,
and a little daughter was born to Anna and Joachim.
In their joy and thankfulness they said she should
not be as other children, but should serve in the
temple as little Samuel had done. The name they
gave the child was Mary, not knowing even then
that she was to be the mother of our Lord.
The little maid was but three years old when her
parents took her to present her in the temple. She
was such a little child that they almost feared she
might be frightened to go up the steps to the great
temple and meet the high priest alone. So they
asked if she might go in company with the other
children who were also on their way to the temple.
But when the little band arrived at the temple
steps, Mary stepped forward and began to climb
up, step by step, alone, while the other children
and her parents watched wondering from below.
 Straight up to the temple gates she climbed, and
stood with little head bent low to receive the
blessing of the great high priest.
So the child was left there to be taught to serve
God and to learn how to embroider the purple and
fine linen for the priests' vestments. Never before
had such exquisite embroidery been done as that
which Mary's fingers so delicately stitched, for her
work was aided by angel hands. Sleeping or
waking, the blessed angels never left her.
When it was time that the maiden should be
married, so many suitors came to seek her that it
was difficult to know which to choose. To decide
the matter they were all told to bring their staves
or wands and leave them in the temple all night,
that God might show by a sign who was the
most worthy to be the guardian of the pure young
Now among the suitors was a poor carpenter of
Nazareth called Joseph, who was much older and
much poorer than any of the other suitors. They
thought it was foolish of him to bring his staff,
nevertheless it was placed in the temple with the
But when the morning came and the priest went
into the temple, behold, Joseph's staff had budded
into leaves and flowers, and from among the
blossoms there flew out a dove as white as snow.
So it was known that Joseph was to take charge
of the young maid, and all the rest of the suitors
seized their staves and broke them across their
knees in rage and disappointment.
 Then the story goes on to the birth of our
Saviour as it is told to you in the Bible.
It was this story which Ghirlandaio painted on
the walls of the chapel, as well as the history of
John the Baptist. Then, as Giovanni directed, he
painted the arms of the Tournabuoni on various
shields all over the chapel, and only in the tabernacle
of the sacrament on the high altar he
painted a tiny coat of arms of the Ricci family.
The chapel was finished at last and every one
flocked to see it, but first of all came the Ricci, the
owners of the chapel.
They looked high and low, but nowhere could
they see the arms of their family. Instead, on all
sides, they saw the arms of the Tournabuoni. In a
great rage they hurried to the Council and
demanded that Giovanni Tournabuoni should be
punished. But when the facts were explained, and
it was shown that the Ricci arms had indeed been
placed in the most honourable part, they were
obliged to be content, though they vowed vengeance
against the Tournabuoni. Neither did Ghirlandaio
get his extra two hundred gold pieces, for although
Giovanni was delighted with the frescoes he never
paid the price he had promised.
To the end of his days Ghirlandaio loved nothing
so much as to work from morning till night.
Nothing was too small or mean for him to do.
He would even paint the hoops for women's baskets
rather than send any work away from his shop.
'Oh,' he cried, one day, 'how I wish I could
paint all the walls around Florence with my stories.'
 But there was no time to do all that. He was
only forty-four years old when Death came and bade
him lay down his brushes and pencil, for his work
Beneath his own frescoes they laid him to rest
in the church of Santa Maria Novella. And
although we sometimes miss the soul in his pictures
and weary of the gay outward decoration of
goldsmith's work, yet there is something there which
makes us love the grand show of fair ladies and strong
men in the carefully finished work of this Florentine
'Maker of Garlands.'
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