Benozzo Gozzoli was a popular Renaissance painter and contemporary
of Ghiberti, Brunelleschi
and Fra Angelico and is best-remembered for his fresco inside the Medici
palace. Many consider it one of the finest of the Renaisssance.
As a young man Gozzoli assisted Fra Angelico with the frescoes of San Marco, commissioned by Cosimo de'Medici.
But he had to wait until he was 40 to get the most important commission of his career. Gozzoli was approached by Cosimo to decorate a private
chapel in the newly-completed Medici palace.
Designed by Michelozzo, the Medici palace was a monolithic fortress of iron and stone, simply designed, to reflect Cosimo's classical tastes.
Deep within the walls Cosimo planned to conceal a casket of jewels- a private chapel to impress his guests.
Anxious to please his patron, Gozzoli chose to illustrate a mythical procession
of the three wise men, the Magi. It was a favorite subject
of the Medici family. Gozzoli covered all four walls of the windowless
chapel with fairytale landscapes, animals, figures and fabrics.
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He experimented with gleaming colors, gold leaf and ultramarine. Such precious pigments cost Cosimo a fortune,
but were well worth it. This was art in the service of Medici power, announcing to the world that Cosimo was rich beyond imagination.
The characters Gozzoli chose to portray were friends and associates of the Medici family, parading vividly through the hills of Tuscany.
This was the Medici's precious network of “amici degli amici” (friends of friends).
Gozzoli had been inspired by the Council of Florence, a magnificent international festival which dominated the city when the artist was just 19.
Cosimo had sent invitations across the known world. Delegates from India and Ethiopia brought with them creatures unknown to Italians.
Camels, leopards, monkeys and giraffes were some of Gozzoli's exotic menagerie on the walls of the chapel.
Even the Magi themselves were carefully chosen. The oldest, Melchior, is assumed to represent Joseph, Patriarch of Constantinople,
leader of the Orthodox Church and a key speaker at the Council of Florence. Balthazar, the middle-aged Magi, represents John VIII Paleologus,
Emperor of Byzantium, and Cosimo's guest of honor. The youngest, Caspar, is believed to be Cosimo's grandson, Lorenzo de'Medici. Lorenzo's brother,
Giuliano, their father, Piero, and Cosimo himself were also featured.
The fresco is still considered one of the finest ever completed. It captures the vitality, wealth and cultural diversity of the Florentine Renaisssance
with an immediacy that leaves spectators breathless.
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