Ghirlandaio was one of the foremost Florentine artists of his time, which is kind of like being an actors actor in Hollywood today. Some of his pupils like Michelangelo became more famous than him but that does not dominish his skills or importance in the history of painting. A review of his work cements his place in history as one of the great Renaissance painters.
Ghirlandaio’s full name is given as Domenico di Tommaso di Currado di Doffo Bigordi. The occupation of his father Tommaso Bigordi and his uncle Antonio in 1451 was given as “‘setaiuolo a minuto,’ that is, dealers of silks and related objects in small quantities.” He was the eldest of six children born to Tommaso Bigordi by his first wife Mona Antonia; of these, only Domenico and his brothers and collaborators Davide and Benedetto survived childhood. Tommaso had two more children by his second wife, also named Antonia, whom he married in 1464. Domenico’s half-sister Alessandra (b. 1475) married the painter Bastiano Mainardi in 1494.
Domenico was at first apprenticed to a jeweller or a goldsmith, most likely his own father. The nickname “Il Ghirlandaio” (garland-maker) came to Domenico from his father, a goldsmith who was famed for creating the metallic garland-like necklaces worn by Florentine women. In his father’s shop, Domenico is said to have made portraits of the passers-by, and he was eventually apprenticed to Alessio Baldovinettito study painting and mosaic.
Ghirlandaio’s compositional schema were simultaneously grand and decorous, in keeping with 15th century’s restrained and classicizing experimentation. His chiaroscuro, in the sense of realistic shading and three-dimensionalism, was reasonably advanced, as were his perspectives, which he designed on a very elaborate scale by eye alone, without the use of sophisticated mathematics. His color is more open to criticism, but such evaluation applies less to the frescoes than the tempera paintings, which are sometimes too broadly and crudely bright. His frescoes were executed entirely in buon fresco which, in Italian art terminology, refers to abstention from additions in tempera.
A certain hardness of outline may attest to his early training in metal work. Vasari states that Ghirlandaio was the first to abandon, in great part, the use of gilding in his pictures, representing by genuine painting any objects supposed to be gilded; yet this claim is not applicable to his entire oeuvre, since the landscape highlights in, as an example, the Adoration of the Shepherds located, in modern age, at the Florence Academy, were rendered in gold leaf. Those of his drawings and sketches which can be observed and studied at the Uffizi gallery, are considered particularly remarkable for their naturalistic vigor of outline.
One of the great legacies of Ghirlandaio is that he is commonly credited with having given some early art education to Michelangelo, who cannot, however, have remained with him long. Francesco Granacci is another among his best-known pupils.