Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni

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Domenico Ghirlandaio, Portrait of Giovanna degli Albizzi Tornabuoni, 1488
By EMMA SHAPIRO

"Proficiency in literary form, not accompanied by broad acquaintance with facts and truths, is a barren attainment" -Leonardo Bruni

Behind family, my grandpa Al believed most in the importance of education, and he set the attainment of a quality one as a priority for his family. Brought up by his aunt, in a less fortunate family, he learned young that he must work for the knowledge that would later bring him success. After graduating from the University of Missouri, Alvin Shapiro went on to Yale Law School, where he graduated number two in his class. He sent his four kids to private high schools, followed by attendance to some of the most prestigious colleges in the country. They all graduated from college, and some graduate school  but none left with debt. He lived a humble life, unconcerned with trivial matters. Despite having money, he did not see any vitality in materialistic goods, and spent money on direct and indirect education.


Grandpa Al evoked my love and appreciation of the arts. My fondest memories of him are attending the operas and symphonies together. My papa took his pop's morals and have applied them to my life. He works constantly in order to give me what his father gave him. Beyond the high education I receive in school, I strive to broaden my knowledge with cultural involvement. My papa also believes in the importance of travel, and wherever we go we make it a point to spend plenty of time in museums. At a young age, I did not understand the art necessarily, but I understood the cultural importance and how much you can learn from art. This past summer I traveled through Europe with my family, and spent an entire 11 hour day at the museums in Madrid. The line into the Prado Museum went on for hours, so instead I started with the lesser known Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, a private collection.

The signs leading in and the brochure given to me upon entrance to the Thyssen-Bornemisza were decorated with the portrait, or profile, of Giovanna Tornabuoni, by Domenico Ghirlandaio. I had never seen this painting before, and wondered, out of all the paintings in the museum, why is this one so special?

Giovanna Tornabuoni was a member of one of the most influential families of the period. She married a man, also elevated in status, at age 18, gave birth to her first child in 1477, and in 1488, died delivering her second child. Death during labor was common for Florentine women during this period, and the women received a privileged status after death. Many paintings exist to this day depicting women who passed during childbirth, andGiovanna Tornabuoni among the most famous. Her husband and father commissioned Florentine artist, Domenico Ghirlandaio, to paint her shortly after death. Ghirlandaio presents her upright and well decorated, with the latin words "Art, if only you were able to portray character and soul, no painting on earth would be more beautiful" showing her high status, and strong disposition.

This painting not only exemplifies fifteenth century Florentine portraiture, but dives deeper into the role of women in fifteenth century life, and shows the importance of money and status. Obvious by her family's wealth and influence, Giovanna had an education. But as you look closer in the painting you wonder, was she truly educated to the standards of Leonardo Bruni, or do you need more than purely an education to acquire knowledge?

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