Ghirlandaio’s “Old Man with his Grandson”

Renaissance Art

Ghirlandaio’s “Old Man with his Grandson”

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Ghirlandiao’s Old Man with his Grandson

The Renaissance marked a dramatic shift in artistic values and ideals as represented by Domenico Ghirlandaio’s painting “Old Man with his Grandson.” While the subject of Medieval art was strictly religious and lacked true perspective, Renaissance artists sought to recapture the artistic Humanism of the Classical World by incorporating reality through perspective. The Renaissance also saw a transition from the strictly religious topics to a more human-centered focus. Ghirlandaio’s “Old Man with his Grandson” exemplifies these values and ideals in a physical form.

In the tradition of the Classical World, Renaissance artists sought to capture realistic human forms and Domenico Ghirlandaio’s “Old Man with his Grandson,” portrays just such a realistic scene in which an old man is seated with his grandson on his lap. Both the old man and the child are wearing clothing appropriate to the time and the artists has made certain to capture every aspect of their appearance. The old man’s nose is even slightly disfigured and he has a large mole on his forehead, demonstrating the importance of reality in Renaissance art. Seated on the old man’s lap is a young, golden haired, child looking into the face of his grandfather with his hand gently placed on his chest. There is a real tenderness displayed in the scene, the love between a grandfather and his grandson on display for the world to see.

The reality of the painting is due to the perspective in which the figures are displayed. For instance, the grandfather’s head is much larger than the child’s, as would be appropriate, and the child’s hand is also of a correct proportion, as are both of the bodies of the two subjects. The use of shade helps develop the sense that there is perspective in the painting and that objects that are closer or farther away appear so. There is also a window by which the old man and child are sitting in which appears an outdoor scene. The window shows two hills, one clearly behind the other and a road which winds through the countryside, becoming ever larger the closer it gets. The small scene shown through the window is a perfect example of how the artists of the Renaissance used perspective to create a realistic portrayal of the world around them.

Finally, like many Renaissance artworks Ghirlandaio’s “Old Man with his Grandson” is strictly secular in its subject, without any religious influence. The painting is simply an old man and his grandson; no angels, halos, demons, or any religious icons or symbolism. The work of art maintains a humanist basis, showing a purely human interaction to which any person could relate.

Ghirlandaio’s “Old Man with his Grandson” demonstrates a combination of Renaissance values and ideals; specifically perspective, reality, and secularism. Artists of the Renaissance sought to capture reality in their paintings, in effect they tried to make their work appear as if it were a photograph; something very difficult to accomplish with paint. However, Ghirlandaio’s use of perspective and shadow allowed for a realism to come through so that the painting portrays a realistic scene of two realistic people. It also demonstrates the transformation from purely religious subjects to a more Humanist view of art, one where human interaction takes center place.


Ghirlandaio, Domenico. (1490). Old Man with his Grandson [Painting]. Retrieved from http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/g / ghirland/domenico/7panel/08oldman.html

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