The art of Michele Tosini. An interview with Professor Heidi J. Hornik

April 15, 2019 | by

Professor Heidi J. Hornik is the major international expert on Michele Tosini, also known as Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio (Florence 1503-1577). In this interview, Hornik provides key information to the understanding of a Cinquecento Florentine master. 


In your numerous publications dedicated to Michele Tosini (1503-77), you provide both archival and visual evidence proving that he was not a secondary Florentine artist, as often believed. In which way has scholarship tended to foster an incorrect understanding of Tosini’s art and how has it evolved over time?

Prior to my locating various documents, Michele Tosini’s involvement with various patrons, confraternities and the founding of the Accademia del Disegno, attributions were made to the artist totally based on style. I established a clear chronological and documented oeuvre. Attributions can now be based on comparison to documented works and archival sources.


In your volume ‘Michele Tosini and the Ghirlandaio Workshop in Cinquecento Florence,’ you extensively write about the relationship between Tosini and his master Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio (1483-1561). What was the role played by Ghirlandaio in ensuring his pupil’s success and in which way was Tosini able to independently secure it after his master’s death?

The Ghirlandaio workshop was among the most successful and reliable workshops in Florence in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Michele Tosini lead this established workshop through the Late Renaissance or Mannerist style in Florence. Baccio di Michel Tosini, his son, continued the workshop after Michele’s death in 1577. There are nearly twenty painters recorded in the Accademia del Disegno registers that were noted as students of Michele Tosini. That is the focus of my current research.


How important was the encounter with the art of the Florentine Mannerists in the development of Tosini’s style?

Michele Tosini’s professional relationship with Agnolo Bronzino and Giorgio Vasari developed through their association in forming the Academia del Disegno and other significant Florentine projects. Vasari and Michelangelo were both advocates of Tosini’s to Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici as documented in letters. Tosini’s style was influenced by these masters of the Mannerist style.


As attested by the numerous extant versions of the Madonna with Child and St. John the Baptist, in the bottega of Michele Tosini, successful paintings were produced in series for the free market. What do we know about serial production in Tosini’s workshop and which were the subjects most appreciated by his clientele?

The Ghirlandaio workshop, under the direction of Michele Tosini, produced a significant number of popular themes such as the Madonna and Child with the infant Saint John the Baptist. Tosini, and his workshop, also painted bust length female figures in the 1570s that are among the most beautifully constructed Mannerist paintings. These works were painted as expected by well-trained artists in the style of the day, La Maniera, to an appreciative set of patrons who very much wanted to own a private devotional image for their homes.


It is often said that social connections are of vital importance for contemporary artists to gain and maintain both recognition and commercial success. Could this statement apply to the case of an Old Master such as Tosini?

The Ghirlandaio workshop under Ridolfo’s direction gave Michele Tosini a strong foundation in training and experience with commercial success. However, Michele developed relationships with Bronzino, Michelangelo, Montorsoli, and Giorgio Vasari as well as other artists working in Florence because of his character and his skills as a painter and businessman. His style was consistent, he held positions of leadership in the Accademia and confraternities and was a very respected Florentine citizen.


From a personal point of view, what led you to focus your PhD dissertation and numerous consequent studies on the art of Michele Tosini?

Michele Tosini is a fascinating painter whose life, which I was able to learn about by finding his final testament in the Archivio di Stato, has allowed me to more fully understand the artistic culture of the sixteenth century in Florence. Tosini’s artistic training, friendships and confraternity brothers, professional associates and now, his students, have kept me quite busy researching for the last thirty years. So many of his subjects were religious which also allowed me to work on related to my secondary area of scholarly publication – art and theology. I am very fortunate to have found such a wonderful topic so early in my career that I still enjoy and continue to find new archival documentation on the life and work of Michele Tosini and the Ghirlandaio workshop.


Heidi J. Hornik

Dr. Heidi J. Hornik currently works as Professor of Art History: Italian Renaissance and Baroque at Baylor University, Waco, Texas. Hornik has dedicated her Phd dissertation (The Pennsylvania State University, 1990) to the art of Michele Tosini. Her publication Michele Tosini and the Ghirlandaio Workshop in Cinquecento Florence is the first biography on the artist. Hornik’s numerous articles on Tosini have been published internationally and have been a major contribution to the study of Mannerism in sixteenth-century Florence.

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