Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni has traditionally been the iconic image that represents the Old Master Paintings collection of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. An absolute masterpiece within the artist’s oeuvre and within Florentine art, it perfectly and beautifully reflects Renaissance ideals of the last quarter of the fifteenth century.
Giovanna, born on 18 December 1468, was the eighth daughter of Maso di Luca degli Albizzi and Caterina Soderini. She received the type of education considered appropriate for young women of her social status. The most important event in Giovanna’s life was her marriage to Lorenzo Tornabuoni (1468–1497), heir to an influential family with links to the Medici. Their wedding was celebrated in September 1486: the festivities were most lavish and for three days the beautiful Giovanna held centre
stage. On 11 October 1487 the young couple’s first child, Giovannino, was born, but tragically, Giovanna died aged nineteen during her second pregnancy the following year. She was buried in the church of Santa Maria Novella on 7 October 1488.
Giovanna has been preserved for posterity by Domenico Ghirlandaio, who around 1489 received the commission for a posthumous portrait intended to hang permanently in a place of honour in the Palazzo Tornabuoni. The painting and its wider context are the focus of the present exhibition at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Notably, Ghirlandaio emphasised three aspects of the sitter’s personality—her beauty, her role as the wife of Lorenzo, and her virtue and devoutness—which are used as the principal themes around which the present exhibition is organised.