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

St John the Baptist in the Desert

Cappella Tornabuoni, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Ghirlandaio's workshop produced three panel paintings to form part of the overall decoration of the Tornabuoni Chapel: on the rear wall, and the front and back panels of the main altarpiece. That on the rear wall, described by Vasari as "Our Lady who appears with the Child in celestial glory together with the archangel Michael and St John the Baptist, and at the sides St Catherine of Siena and St Laurence dressed as Deacon" was lost in the careless restoration of 1804, but the frescoes which framed it with the Stories of St Peter Martyr have survived. The execution of Saint John is not depicted in the Tornabuoni Chapel. In its place, however, is the fresco on the window wall showing the martyrdom of the Dominican saint Peter Martyr. Perhaps the intention was to equate the Dominican saint with John the Baptist. This fresco was probably executed by David and Benedetto Ghirlandaio.

Also survived the St John in the Desert, one of the most famous frescoes, which was by tradition attributed to the young Michelangelo. Many writers believe the young Michelangelo carried out some of the work in these poorer paintings by Ghirlandaio's workshop. They even believe that a narrow fresco on the window wall may contain a portrait of the barely fifteen year old artist, who is thought to have worked as an assistant in the Tornabuoni Chapel.

When he was a boy, Saint John went into the desert in order to do penance. He is depicted moving quickly, his cloak flapping behind him. He turns once more towards his parents, who he is now leaving. In the background, ocean-going ships are anchored in front of a town.