January 11, 2011


Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni

Domenico Ghirlandaio died of a ‘pestilential fever’ on this date in 1494, in Florence, the city of his birth. He was a highly competent Renaissance painter whose works are well-known and very well-located:  Ghirlandaio frescoes are in the chapel of Santa Trinita, the Palazzo Vecchio and the Sistine Chapel.

His name was not really Ghirlandaio – it was Bigordi.  But his father sold silks and made jewelry, especially long necklaces with flower motifs and somehow his son got to be called Il Ghirlandaio – the garland-maker.

Ghirlandaio is almost never mentioned without it being noted that Michelangelo was his apprentice for a while  – that and the fact that he pales in comparison to his contemporary, Botticelli, leaves him a bit of a runner-up.

Ghirlandaio self-portrait

It is also Alexander Hamilton’s birthday and he was born in either 1755 or 1757.  They’re still trying to sort that one out.  Hamilton, in his short life of 49 (or 47) years, was our first Secretary of the Treasury, a founding father, an aide to George Washington during the Revolution and author of most of the Federalist Papers.  He was so influential that there is hardly room enough to list all his accomplishments, so go here.

Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull

Although he and Thomas Jefferson disagreed on just about everything, we have him to thank for the  fact that Jefferson became president – he cast his vote for Jefferson when TJ and Aaron Burr wound up in an electoral college tie in 1800.

He had fingers in so many pies that as recently as 1962 the Navy was still using the intership communication protocols he had written for the Revenue Cutter Service in 1790.

(He had created the service to interdict smugglers and make sure tariffs were paid on imported goods.  The fledgling US really needed the money.  The service merged with the Life-saving Service in 1915 to become the US Coast Guard.)

The NY Historical Society had an excellent exhibit on Hamilton a couple of years ago and you can still see a virtual tour. They call him ‘The Man Who Made Modern America.’

Also, Hendrik Hertzberg at The New Yorker has a nice essay on just how much Hamilton disliked the idea of two senators per state here.

He was killed by Aaron Burr in a duel, the cause of which was just about as trivial as you would expect, but Burr was feeling very vicious after losing an election for governor of New York.  They met at dawn in Weehauken NJ, on a  dueling ground where Hamilton’s son Philip had died in a duel three years earlier.



  1. history in the telling thank you very interesting


    Comment by avery — January 11, 2011 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

  2. in a duel?! that’s crazy. 200 years later and the US ‘needs the money’ more than ever…lol


    Comment by Nina C — January 11, 2011 @ 4:54 pm | Reply

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