(b. 1449, Firenze, d. 1494, Firenze)
Obsequies of St Francis1483-85
Santa Trinita, Florence
This scene is underneath the Test by Fire before the Sultan on the right wall.
Grieving Franciscan brothers encircle the dead founder of their order. Some are kneeling in order to kiss the stigmata on his hands and feet. A figure dressed in red is bending over the dead body in order to examine the wound in the saint's side. This is Girolamo who like the doubting Thomas with Christ, doubted the stigmatisation of St Francis until he was able to touch the wound.
To the left a priest is celebrating the funeral mass wearing a pair of spectacles on his nose - still an unusual motif, for Canon van der Paele in Jan van Eyck's Bruges Madonna of 1436 is still holding his spectacles, together with his book, in his hand. Vasari took such a liking to Ghirlandaio's priest that he wrote that he "is so real that only the absence of sound proves him to be a painted image". The distribution of the groups of figures is another variation - as is the Obsequies in the Saint Fina Chapel - of the composition created by Filippo Lippi in his Obsequies of Saint Stephen in Prato Cathedral. The sacred architecture is also derived from Lippi's fresco; Ghirlandaio, however, opens up his imaginary architecture at both sides, as he does in San Gimignano, with view onto a landscape.
To the right is the Franciscan Order in all its simplicity, and with its kindly, somewhat rustic looking monks. The church in the background has a sober appearance, though it gives on to a Tuscan countryside lush with rivers and streams. Here too, lesser-known characters are portrayed, undoubtedly either the monks of the nearby church of Ognissanti, so dear to Domenico, or those of Santissima Trinita.
Ghirlandaio had certainly been to see Giotto's fresco in Santa Croce, since he has used the same composition and distribution of masses in this scene. Indeed, the teachings of Giotto, and his style, must not be forgotten. But here Domenico is more joyful and serene. The delicate touches of grey and white can only be his. His too is the light that streams over the faces, that gives a warm serenity and infinite peace to the countenance of Francis, motionless in death, and that falls on the gilded yellow of the pillow, on the reds and blues, and on the white clouds in the sky. There is almost a country atmosphere about it, an air of church-square festivity, and there is a masterly touch in the interplay of carefully spaced hands, which assume an almost musical quality through Domenico's artistry.