The Birth of the Virgin by Domenico Ghirlandaio, a pen and brown ink drawing

Ghirlandaio, Birth of Virgin

Ghirlandaio's The Birth of the Virgin fresco

Ghirlandaio's The Birth of the Virgin fresco

Height: 21.500 cm
Width: 28.500 cm

PD 1866-7-14-9

Domenico Ghirlandaio (about 1448/9-1494) ran one of Florence's most successful workshops and was a hardworking and talented artist. By the time Michelangelo joined his studio at the age of twelve in 1487, Ghirlandaio was part of the way through painting an ambitious series of frescoes for the choir chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence.

The frescoes illustrated the life of the Virgin and St John the Baptist, and the young Michelangelo almost certainly assisted in their creation. This study for The Birth of the Virgin must have been drawn at a very early stage as the architectural setting was refined in later drawings. Ghirlandaio's principal aim here appears to have been the arrangement of the figures. These are shown as spindly bodies with blank ovals for heads and blobs as hands - a technique strikingly similar to Michelangelo's in some of his preliminary compositional sketches.

Although later in life Michelangelo claimed to be entirely self-taught, Ghirlandaio's influence can be seen in his work. Much of Michelangelo's activity as an apprentice would have centred on drawing, and he would have benefited from Ghirlandaio's high standards in this area.