In one of the most memorable moments of any recent art museum exhibition, these two paintings are hung next to each other in “Face to Face: Flanders, Florence and Renaissance Painting” at The Huntington Library.

The painting on top is Hans Memling’s The Man of Sorrows Blessing (c. 1480-90), now in Genoa at the Palazzo Bianco. The second painting is Domenico Ghirlandaio’s c. 1490 treatment of Memling’s painting. Memling’s is an oil painting, Girlandaio’s is in tempera. It’s a great example of how “Face to Face” demonstrates how ideas and techniques in painting traveled from Flanders to Renaissance Florence. The exhibition is on view at the Huntington through January 13.

This installation is discussed on this week’s Modern Art Notes Podcast, during which each of the “Face to Face” curators, Catherine Hess and Paula Nuttall, discuss the exhibition. Hess is the chief curator of European art at the Huntington. Nuttall is the author of “From Flanders to Florence: The Impact of Netherlandish Painting, 1400–1500” (2004, Yale University Press), which tracked the impact of northern European painting on Italian art.

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Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni (1488) by Ghirlandaio. Tempera on wood, 76x50 cm.

One of my favourite paintings of the early renaissance. 

Ghirlandaio made this portrait two years before she died. A portrait which reflects both physical and moral beauty, the two elements that were important to the early renaissance artist. The inner beauty should correspond with the outer. Here, the beautiful Giovanna is portrayed in profile (the favoured angle in the early renaissance). On the wall behind her there’s a piece of paper which reads:

“Art, if only you could portray mores and spirit, there wouldn’t be a more beautiful picture on earth”



Teaching Each Other

Sandro Botticelli, Fra Filippo Lippi, and Domenico Ghirlandaio clearly spent time together, which can be seen through three works. The Birth of Venusby Botticelli, The Birth of St. John the Baptist by Ghirlandaio, and Madonna and Child by Lippi. 

It is known through Giorgio Vasari that Botticelli was at one point the apprentice of Lippi, but where does Ghirlandaio fall into this? Ghirlandaio and Botticelli both trained under the famous master Andrea del Verrocchio, and Verrocchio was an apprentice to Botticelli’s other master Filippo Lippi!