(b. 1449, Firenze, d. 1494, Firenze)

Birth of Mary

Fresco, width 450 cm
Cappella Tornabuoni, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

"The second scene is the Nativity of the Virgin, executed with great diligence. Among other remarkable things it contains a window which lights the chamber and actually deceives the beholder..." (Vasari).

The second scene, the Birth of Mary, is one of the finest creations in the chapel. The space, which is skillfully constructed along perspective lines, opens up like a display case. It is opulently decorated, with a relief frieze in which putti are dancing a roundel. They appear to be delighting in the birth of the Virgin Mary, for as the Latin inscription at their feet proclaims: "Nativitas tua genitrix virgo gaudium annunziavit universo mundo" (Thy birth, O Virgin and Mother of God, brings joy to all the world). This frieze of putti was inspired by Florentine sculpture, being reminiscent of the two cantorias in the cathedral by Donatello and Luca della Robbia, created about 1435.

The daughter of the donor, Ludovica Tornabuoni, is entering the birth room from the left with her retinue. She is noticed by the kneeling nurse, who turns and looks at her - an action Ghirlandaio uses to forge a direct link between the biblical and the contemporary. The stiff appearance of this young aristocrat forms a stark contrast to the graceful movements of the maid pouring water. There is an isolated preliminary study for this figure that tells us a great deal about Ghirlandaio's method of drawing using a network of parallel hatching.