Domenico Ghirlandaio & His Rugs

Domenico Ghirlandaio was born Domenico di Tommaso Bigordi called Domenico Ghirlandaio in Florence in 1449 and died there in 1494. Ghirlandaio, which means “garland maker”, was an important Italian artist in the mid 15th century but not nearly as as well known his student Michalangelo. This painting is more properly identified as “Madonna and Child Enthroned with Four Angels, the Archangels Michael and Raphael, and St. Gusto and St. Zenobius”. It was painted in the period between 1480 and 1485. It is painted with oil and tempera on a wooden panel. It is in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence, Italy.

Domenico Ghirlandaio Madonna Enthroned mid 15th century
Domenico Ghirlandaio Madonna Enthroned mid 15th century

Below we see the detail of the rug and a picture of A Ghirlandaio medallion Bergama rug. Compare the medallions in each rug. It has been suggested that rugs like this so-called Ghirlandaio medallion Bergama rug evolved from rugs like the one Ghirlandaio painted.


Domenico Ghirlandaio’ s Saint Jerome

Domenico Ghirlandaio' s Saint Jerome

Domenico Ghirlandaio uses a rug much like the one he used in Domenic Ghirlandaio Madonna Enthroned mid 15th century.  Under magnification we see every thing in the borders of the painting of Saint Jerome that we see in “Madonna Enthroned”. Its is possible that Ghirlandaio used the same rug in both pictures.

Volkmar Gantzhorn in his book, benignly titled, ORIENTAL CARPETS presents his very esoteric and hotly debated thesis that Christian Oriental carpets existed long before the Islamic culture made its appearance and at that creative pre-Islamic genesis were the Christian Armenians. He also discusses the philosophical and religious iconography of the Ghirlandaio medallion. The square he says represents the earth and the diamond represents the heavens. or two different powers . He calls it a “cosmogram” or world view. The fact that he is at least naming the shapes is a step in the right direction. I would like to use this dissection of the medallion into two distinct element to examine the different ideas projected by their historically confused/different positional relationships to one another as well as offer a solution to one of the mysteries attached to the painters work.

When Ghirlandaio painted his picture MADONNA ENTHRONED he was working for the church and was obliged to amplify its current doctrine. In the matter of translating the original design of the medallion he chose to reverse it. He put the diamond over the square because according to church doctrine one can only see the earth through heaven. Heaven occults the earth. Ghirlandaio model reg medallions were probably the reverse of the ones he actually painted, as in James A. Lucas’ “Ghirlandaio” and my humble example. Here we see the diamond shape in the background covered by the square of the earth. In this case we have direct access to the earth with the heavenly spheres or “cosmos” in the background suggesting a powerful recognition of “earthy man” mediating heaven. An order or icon considered heresy in the medieval Christian Church until Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation. It would not be until Martin Luther put “grace” into the equation and made Christ human like all people that the two disparate “world views” or two different versions of the Ghirlandaio medallion, found equal and opposing opportunity in the larger Christian community.

I suggest that Ghirlandaio did not blindly copy the medallion exactly as it appear on the model carpet but modified it to comport with the churches current world view.

Ghirlandaio medallion Bergama Rug first half 19th C.

A Bergama rug, West Anatolia, first half 19th century remnants of original flatwoven end finishes, oxidized browns, losses to ends and selvages, moth damage, approximately 6ft. 11in. by 6ft. 2in. (2.11 by 1.88m.)

The James A. Lucas "Ghirlandaio" Bergama Rug

The “Ghirlandaio” group is named for a carpet depicted by Domenico Ghirlandaio in his mid-15th century Madonna Enthroned (see Gantzhorn, Volkmar, The Christian Oriental Carpet, Cologne, 1991, no. 482). Based upon the octagon-in-squares centers of the medallions they are classified as Type III Holbein carpets, see: Yetkin, Serare, Historical Turkish Carpets, Istanbul, 1981, pp. 59-65. Such `Holbein variants’ reflect earlier designs but feature a powerful central medallion in contrast to the overall pattern of the “Holbeins” and “Lottos”.

Here the design is presented in its purest form: color and symmetry, without ambiguity or compromise, a weaving of powerful simplicity.

Ghirlandaio Bergama Area Village Rug 19th Century
Ghirlandaio Bergama Area Village Rug 19th Century
Village carpet with excellent color. The green to blue abrasch field is occupied by a red field cartouche with a blue field medaillon, The medaillon is derived from early Anatolian Holbein pattern. The border is clearly and strongly drawn.

Ghirlandaio Bergama Rug C. 1800
Ghirlandaio Bergama Rug C. 1800

A village rug in the tradition of the “Holbein” rugs as the medallion design and the arrangement of the pattern clearly shows. Ends slightly reduced, sides not original, new flat-woven shirazi, traces of wear and usage, pile very worn in places, some holes. Pretty colours.