Domenico Ghirlandaio 1449 – 1494

The Birth of John the Baptist

fresco (215 × 450 cm) — 1486-1490 Museum Santa Maria Novella, Florence

This work is linked to Luke 1:57

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At first sight this might be an everyday scene. A child is born, the mother is resting on the bed, a maid serves her a drink, two young women care for the child, and some neighbours pay a visit.

But the situation is more complex. Most striking is the high age of the mother. She is Elisabeth, the wife of the also aged priest Zacharias. Also, the visitors are not Elisabeth's contemporaries but 15th century members of the Florentine Tornabuoni family. They bring wine and fruit, which probably was not common in ancient Israel.

The fresco has a strong domestic atmosphere, emphasized by a number of still-life details: the fruit basket, the brass bowl on the left, and the pomegranates and vase above the bed. Ghirlandaio may have been influenced by Flemish painters, who often used such details.

This fresco is part of the series Ghirlandaio made in the Tornabuoni family chapel in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. All works in this series are about the life of John the Baptist.

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