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

Madonna in Glory with Saints

Tempera on wood, 221 x 198 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Ghirlandaio's greatest achievement was the decoration of mainly private chapels with monumental frescoes. The furnishings of a chapel also included an altarpiece, and normally this would consist of an altar painting. The altarpieces normally found in Gothic art, consisting of several individual panels, with images painted on a gold background, had largely disappeared by Ghirlandaio's time. A new type of altarpiece had become common: the square panel.

In the Tornabuoni Chapel of the Santa Maria Novella, Ghirlandaio made sure that the painted furnishings were complete. Part of the entire extent of the Tornabuoni commission included a panel painting for the main altar in the church of Santa Maria Novella - the Pala Tornabuoni - and its rear panel facing the apsidal chapel. The ensemble was dismembered in 1816, the main altar painting, which depicts the most important saints for this place, is now on show in Munich. From the six wings of the front side - mentioned by Vasari - supposedly two are in Munich, one in Budapest and one in Paris. The rear panel, the Resurrection of Christ is now in Berlin. Both works were begun during the last years of Ghirlandaio's life and were probably not completed until after he had died. There has been much debate as to which parts were painted by Ghirlandaio himself, and which by his workshop.

In the central panel of the Pala Tornabuoni, shown here, Mary, the main patron saint of the church, is floating in glory with her child, surrounded by angels and above St Dominic, to whose order the monks of Santa Maria Novella belonged. Holding a book, St Dominic is kneeling in front of Archangel Michael. On the right, St John the Baptist is standing in front of the kneeling St John the Evangelist. The cycle of frescoes on the right wall of the chapel deals with the Baptist in more detail.