Domenico Ghirlandaio - Old Man and Boy

by Alexandra Tuschka


"Through the eyes of love, every man is beautiful." - so could be the touching message of this painting. The man's disease, acne rosacea, is not hidden here, but quite obvious to any viewer. The artist probably completed the portrait after studying the man after he had already passed away. Who exactly he was, however, is not known. The realism shown here is extremely unusual for the end of the 15th century. And even today, the bulbous nose that disfigures the old man is disconcerting. But the child, who has taken a seat on his lap, looks tenderly at the man. Whether this is really his grandchild, as an alternative title would have us believe, is disputed in research.

The possibility is also considered that the child was inserted into the painting at a later date. At least the closeness of the two is sensitively depicted. The clothing of the two clearly shows their social status. The man wears a red robe with a fur trim (wolf fur) and the child wears a red and black dress with lace trim on the collar and a matching red cap. The clothing corresponds to that of the wealthy Florentine citizens. The red garments also connect the two compositionally, although youth and age are in clear contrast.


In the background, a window opens to reveal a natural landscape. A path winds up a hill to a church. Cypress trees refer to Italy.


Domenico Ghirlandaio - Old Man and Boy

Oil on wood, c. 1490, 62 x 46 cm, Musée de Louvre in Paris


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