Art History

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Michele Tosini and the Ghirlandaio Workshop in Cinquecento Florence


Heidi J. Hornik is Professor of Italian Renaissance and Baroque Art History at Baylor University in Texas. She received her degrees from Cornell University and The Pennsylvania State University. In addition to publications on Michele Tosini, Hornik has co-authored three interdisciplinary volumes on art and theology, Illuminating Luke, and co-edited one book, Interpreting Christian Art, with Mikeal C. Parsons.

This book sets out to establish Michele Tosini’s critical role in sixteenth-century Mannerist art in Florence. He was well-trained, well-educated and well-liked, and created a highly productive workshop environment that not only succeeded but thrived in one of the most competitive ages of artistic production in the history of art.

To date, scholarship executed on Tosini (Carlo Gamba in 1928, Sydney Freedberg in 1974) has produced a plethora of misunderstandings about Tosini’s role in the Florentine artistic community. The verdict that Tosini was a “hack” painter who could make his works look like those of more “established” painters in order to get commissions, and that he was an uneducated “second-rate” painter who could not formulate complex iconographical programs, is at odds with the evidence presented in this current research. Tosini was much more than just “the right man in the right place at the right time”. He not only promoted Mannerism, but was part of its process; indeed, the formation of the Accademia del Disegno took place at the height of his artistic career. Given his business acumen it is perhaps understandable that “misunderstandings” have arisen. (To borrow from William Wallace, Tosini can legitimately be thought of as “Genius as Entrepreneur”.)

Michele Tosini and the Ghirlandaio Workshop in Cinquecento Florence is not only essential reading for all students of Late Renaissance / Mannerist art history, but a majestic story of the process of artistic endeavor and how it unfolds that is so deeply admired today.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-186-2
Paperback Price: £29.99 / $55.00
Release Date: November 2009
Page Extent / Format: 240 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Illustrated in colour and mono


List of Illustrations

Introduction: With Spirit and Without Effort

Chapter One: Respectful of Tradition

Chapter Two: Confraternities, Accademia and Civic Projects

Chapter Three: Patterns of Patronage – Innovative

Chapter Four:Tosini’s Workshop Style – The Dissemination of the High Maniera in Florence

Epilogue: A Living Legacy

Appendix: Documents

Works Cited

Heidi Hornik’s volume on Michele Tosini offers us the kind of coverage that we would like to have for every artist: a careful study of the individual and his life and times, thoughtful analyses of his works, and an appendix of documents, most of which are published here for the first time. These documents help to establish Tosini’s importance in his lifetime, especially his roles as the head of a major workshop and as one of the founding members of the Florentine Accademia del Disegno. Tosini was active in several confraternities (their organization and activities are discussed in full detail), had a number of powerful patrons, and played a role in the important but ephemeral decorations created for the major public events of the period. Hornik does not get bogged down in the difficult question of Tosini attributions, but chooses instead to provide a rich picture of his life and works by focusing on thirty-six works that she examines in careful detail. Hornik’s analysis of Tosini’s iconographic program at the Strozzi Chapel in Paolini reveals both the depth of his knowledge and his understanding of the requirements of the Catholic Reformation.
David Wilkins, Professor Emeritus of the History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh and co-author with Frederick Hartt of History of Italian Renaissance Art

Because Tosini was an important enough artist to be recorded by name during his lifetime, he has attracted the attention of art historians during the 20th century, says, but very little has been known about his life, his relationships with colleagues, and his children until now. She confesses that the investigation has not been easy. Archival documents, most published here for the first time, record the major events and important details on his life. Of particular significance is the role of the children in his artistic career. Among the crucial documents is his testament, which she located in 1989 and published in Paragone. She integrates historical and biographical concerns with a stylistic iconography of the original works of art.
Reference & Research Book News

Often dismissed as lacking significance by both contemporaries and subsequent historians, the Ghirlandaio workshop has received limited scholarly attention (except for a few good essays) thus far despite its interesting appeal.
... Newly found documents shed light on the relationship between Michele Tosini, Ghirlandaio workshop, and the city of Florence; in fact, Heidi J. Hornik, professor of Italian Renaissance and Baroque Art History at Baylor University, offers us a complete scenario of Mannerist art in Florence and Tosini’s workshop style. This compact volume presents the study in four brief chapters, all beautifully illustrated. With an introduction and a useful documental appendix, it is the result of a series of studies on the matter begun in the 1980s and it is her last work on the subject. As she declares in the book’s introduction, the intent of the study is that the next generation of art historians will begin to think clearly about Michele Tosini and artists like him in terms of all of their contributions (artistic, religious,and civic) (xviii).
... Through extensive archival research at Archivio di Stato and Archivio di S. Maria Novella in Florence, Hornik has produced an enlightening and engaging study of a fascinating period of Florence art history when the Italian painter Michele Tosini (1503–77) worked there. He was the pupil and adopted son of Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio and became known as Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio. This work has much to commend it.
... In conclusion, this volume will be of great interest to historians of Italian Mannerist art, to scholars of art literature, and to specialists in the history of Florentine art. Hornik’s work is interesting, informative, and fair and offers something to the specialist as well as the common reader.
Sixteenth Century Journal

The fruit of twenty-two years of labor, Heidi Hornik’s monograph on Tosini (1503-77) fills an important void. After the first waves of interest in mannerism, the writing of catalogue raisonnés, particularly in English, has waned. But as she points out in her introduction, Tosini was respected, connected, and a highly productive artist. Although not the son of an artist, Tosini somehow found his way into the bottega of Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio (1483-1561), arguably the most mainstream painter of mid-sixteenth-century Florence. Almost all of what was known about his early career is found in Vasari’s Lives. Vasari did not give Tosini an independent biography but rather inserted him into a group biography of the Ghirlandaio clan. Hornik makes this a central theme of her book, emphasizing workshop continuity as a hallmark of success in sixteenth-century Florence.
... While not a comprehensive biography, Hornik examines most aspects of Tosini’s activity: religious compositions, confraternal patronage, and portraiture are a few of the sections. Chapter 1 reiterates the close connections between Ridolfo and Michele, who Vasari claimed – in phrases echoing those he had employed to describe the relationship between Pontormo and Bronzino – loved one another as if father and son. Tosini’s basis in and evolution away from Ridolfo’s style is traced through their collaborative paintings and contrasting paintings of similar subjects. She discusses Tosini’s testament, property holdings, and children. A fascination with confraternities emerges in chapter 2, with detailed notices of Tosini’s activities in three confraternities and the Accademia del Disegno, although much of this does not involve art. Next, the artist’s connections to Vasari and Vincenzo Borghini and his projects for the Medici are listed. Hornik’s assessment of Vasari’s and Borghini’s attitudes towards Tosini comes across as a bit uninflected. In the complex and evolving artistic scene of Florence, the power of artists and patrons fluctuated, aesthetic judgments changed. Although large and productive, the Ghirlandaio workshop was not the premier one in the city; Vasari’s and Bronzino’s stood at the apex, and Ghirlandaio was not always a darling of the duke’s artistic advisors. In a summary of unexpectedly exorbitant expenses for the 1565 wedding of Francesco de’ Medici, a particularly upset Borghini wrote that he found the valuations Tosini placed on his part in the decorations absurdly high. He pointed out that anything designed by Bronzino was superior to the work of the lesser artists, like that of Tosini.
... Chapter 3 deals with patterns of patronage and what Hornik describes as innovative iconography. She reviews Tosini’s altarpieces for the Badia at Passignano, San Vincenzo at Prato, and the Chapel of the Madonna at Loreto; his Holy Family paintings; and a major fresco cycle for a Strozzi family villa (undertaken in 1561). The latter is studied in the greatest depth in a very satisfying interweaving of word and image. Hornik ably demonstrates the liturgical, biblical, and other connections among the frescoes of the Adoration of the Magi, Marriage at Cana, and Baptism, unravelling the many inscriptions and allusions that bound the chapel together. As in other places in the book, Hornick asserts that Tosini himself was devout: “Tosini was an intensely pious” painter (xv), and “he was probably aware of the objections raised by the founders of the Protestant Reformations,” as he was actively involved with the Dominicans through the lives of three of his four children (86). This sort of uncritical reading of sources dates the book and the approach.
... The final chapter analyzes Tosini’s paintings after works of art by Michelangelo, his female allegories, portraits, representations of the Magdalene, the attribution of a St. John the Baptist in Saint Louis (which she gives to Tosini and dates ca. 1565-70), and some larger altarpieces. In each case the author focuses on a selection. As the author states in the introduction, a number of her previous articles have been reprinted or largely adapted in this book. One might also have wished for higher photographic quality in the images, as many of Tosini’s paintings have a quirky beauty that no doubt drew the author to her subject. Hornik’s attempt to bring Tosini to the fore, as is his due, is worth praising.
Renaissance Quarterly
(Elizabeth Pilliod,
Rutgers University, Camden

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