(b. 1449, Firenze, d. 1494, Firenze)
Fresco, width 450 cm
Cappella Tornabuoni, Santa Maria Novella, Florence
The right wall in the Tornabuoni Chapel tells the story of Saint John the Baptist in the same seven picture areas as the story of Mary is told on the wall opposite. The two stories meet in the fresco the Visitation, in which the two mothers-to-be, the young Mary and the aged Elizabeth are depicted.
The Visitation is the second scene in the lower section of the right wall. "... the Visitation of Our Lady and St Elisabeth, accompanied by women wearing the costumes of the day..." (Vasari).
Along with the two birth scenes, the Visitation is one of the most important pictures in the entire chapel. The meeting of the Virgin Mary and Saint Elizabeth in the centre was painted quickly and easily. Ghirlandaio then uses the remaining space to display a little of everything that his brush is capable of producing and that his donor stipulated in the contract: landscape and cities, animals and plants, a bold use of perspective, classical buildings and reliefs and, not least, portraits of noble and beautiful women.
Various women spectators are witness to the event. Among them Vasari identifies "... Ginevra de' Benci, a most beautiful girl". The person he refers to is standing on the right, though it is much more probable that she is actually Giovanna degli Albizzi, who in those very years became the wife of Lorenzo Tornabuoni.
In the background of the visitation, side by side, are features that reflect the two sources of Ghirlandaio's pictorial inspiration: classical art and Flemish painting. On the right, the classical era is represented by a building with sculptural decorations, while the men seen from behind, leaning over wall, are derived from superb Flemish paintings - Jan van Eyck painted such figures in the background of his so-called Rolin Madonna about 1436 (now in the Musée du Louvre), and Rogier van der Weyden created a variation on this idea in his Saint Luke Painting the Virgin (now in Boston). Ghirlandaio uses the classical reliefs and the strong horizontal line of the wall below them to establish a link with the next scene, the Angel Appearing to Zacharias.