Sunday, December 6, 2009

Zechariah Writes Down the Name of his Son

Title: Zechariah Writes Down the Name of his Son

Artist: Domenico Ghirlandaio

Medium: Fresco

Size: tdb

Date: 1486-1490

Location: Cappella Tornabuoni, Florence.

Luke 1:59-80 chronicles that on the eighth day the child was to be circumcised, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, "No! He is to be called John." They said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who has that name." Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone's astonishment he wrote, "His name is John." Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. The neighbors were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, "What then is this child going to be?" For the Lord's hand was with him. His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins...”

Ghirlandaio has made this composition animated by the unusual device of placing the most important group of people, who are standing around Zechariah, off centre. This means that the baby John is in the centre directly under the middle pilaster in front of a magnificent loggia which opens out onto an extensive landscape. Zechariah, whose spirit is undaunted although he is still mute, expresses amazement that a son has been born to him. While he is asked what name to give his son, he writes on his knees 'His name will be John' - all the while staring at his son, who is held by a woman kneeling reverently before him. Many of the other figures, who seem to be wondering whether this could be true or not, watch in astonishment.

Ghirlandaio (b. 1449, Firenze, d. 1494, Firenze) was an early Renaissance painter of the Florentine school noted for his detailed narrative frescoes. His original name was Domenico di Tommaso Bighordi, and he was the son of a goldsmith, his nickname "Ghirlandaio" derived from his father's skill in making garlands. Almost nothing is known about his training as a painter or the beginnings of his career, but on 1 September 1484, Ghirlandaio and his brother Davide signed a contract to paint the apsidal chapel of Santa Maria Novella. Here Ghirlandaio designed not just the colorful stained glass windows, still at their original location, he also created the altarpiece and its back. The vaulting of the chapel contains the Evangelists while on the left wall Ghirlandaio frescoed the stories of Mary, and on the right the life of St John the Baptist.

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