A CALL TO FREEDOM: The Vocation of the Apostles by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1481 – 82)

 Born as Ghirlandaio (Italian for garland maker), he was apprenticed to a goldsmith but alas, he soon discovered that it was not his calling. Nature had something more charming in store. She lured him by her perfect wit to seek his marvellous and judicious taste in painting. He went on to become one of the most excellent masters of his age; his student, the Master of Masters.

We are navigating the life and art of a self taught and inspirational 15th century Florentine painter namely Domenico Ghirlandaio. And who worthier could resonate his brilliance than his renowned pupil Michelangelo.

Ghirlandaio had his every sense to detail. His scheme of composition was grand; his canvas, decorous; his drawing, precise and his colour, creative. According to Vasari so perceptive was his perspective that he could draw the ancient Roman monuments entirely by eye, which when later measured would prove to have mathematically accurate proportions and linear perspective.

His skill of story-telling was sensational as well. Ghirlandaio often employed the technique to depict a religious narrative within a contemporary setting. This also included several powerful portraits. It provided him great popularity and wealthy patrons.

One such colossal commission was the call from Rome. In the 1480’s, Pope Sixtus IV invited the who’s who of the art world to decorate the newly built Sistine Chapel. Ghirlandaio too received an important task of painting the calling of Peter and Andrew to their Apostleship.

The painting traverses in time to the Gospel of Mark Chapter 1: verses 14 to 20. The narrative enfolds at the background. We are located by the Sea of Galilee. Hemmed by hills, it is often subject to storms. Home to over 40 aquatic species, fishes from this lake were exported all through the Roman Empire. But there was something special about its fishermen, or at least about four of them.

Perhaps it was a day like any other day: the same sea, the same boat and the same net. But breezing across were winds of change. As Peter and his brother Andrew sat casting their nets, there walked Jesus pronouncing His prominent words, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men’. Their response was quick and immediate. They left their nets and followed Him.

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