Knights of the Art HTML version
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 vanish.
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 delighted.
`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 be 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 would
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