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Domenico Ghirlandaio An Old Man and His Grandson (ca 1480-1490)

Thomas Koepsell, MD, MPH
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2002;156(10):966. doi:10.1001/archpedi.156.10.966.
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THE IDENTITIES of the 2 figures in this painting by Domenico Ghirlandaio are unknown, but the picture conveys such a close relationship between them that it has long been assumed that they are grandfather and grandson. Ghirlandaio was among the busiest and best-known painters in Florence in the late 15th century—Michelangelo trained in his workshop—and this work was almost certainly commissioned by a wealthy Florentine family of that era.

Art of the time was moving beyond strictly religious subject matter. This painting can be considered an early psychological portrait, with a bit of landscape included in the window at the upper right. Its main theme seems to be bonding across the generations. Ghirlandaio provides visual clues suggesting a comfortable intimacy between the older man and the boy: their chests touch, the man's embracing left arm is reciprocated by the boy's left hand resting on his chest, and the man's kindly downward gaze is returned by the boy's attentive look up at him.


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