Benozzo Gozzoli, Italian (1421 - 1497)

Benozzo Gozzoli, Italian (1421 - 1497)

Benozzo Gozzoli (c. 1421 – 1497) was an Italian Renaissance painter from Florence. He is best known for a series of murals in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi depicting festive, vibrant processions with fine attention to detail and a pronounced International Gothic influence.

He was born Benozzo di Lese in the village of Sant'Ilario a Colombano around 1421, and moved with his family to Florence in 1427. According to Giorgio Vasari, in the early part of his career he was a pupil and assistant of Fra Angelico: some of the works in the convent of San Marco of Florence were executed by Gozzoli from Angelico's design. In 1444-1447 he collaborated with Lorenzo Ghiberti and his studio on the Paradise Doors of the Battistero di San Giovanni.

On May 23, 1447 Gozzoli was in Rome with Fra Angelico, called by Pope Eugene IV to carry out the fresco decoration of a chapel in the Vatican Palace. Later the two worked until June 1448 in the Cappella Niccolina for Nicholas V. From 1449 is a banner with Madonna and Child in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, perhaps designed by Angelico. In Rome he executed also, in Santa Maria in Aracoeli, a fresco of St Anthony and Two Angels. Benozzo's last collaboration with Angelico is the vault of the Duomo di Orvieto in Umbria.

In 1449 he left Angelico, and moved to Umbria. From 1450 is an Annunciation in Narni, signed OPU[S] BENOT[I] DE FLORENT[IA]. In the monastery of San Fortunato, near Montefalco, he painted a Madonna and Child with Saints and Angels, and three other works. One of these, the altarpiece representing St Thomas receiving the Girdle of the Virgin, is now in the Lateran Museum and shows the affinity of Benozzo's early style to Angelico's. He next painted in the monastery of S. Francesco, Montefalco, filling the choir with three registers of subjects from the life of the saint, with various accessories, including portrait heads of Dante, Petrarch and Giotto. This work was completed in 1452, and is still marked by the style of Angelico, crossed here and there with a more distinctly Giottesque influence. In the same church, in the chapel of Saint Jerome, is a fresco by Gozzoli of the Virgin and Saints, the Crucifixion and other subjects.
He remained at Montefalco (with an interval at Viterbo) probably till 1456, employing Pier Antonio Mezzastris as assistant. Thence he went to Perugia, and painted in a church a Virgin and Saints that is now in the local academy.
Soon afterwards he returned to his native city Florence, the epicenter of Quattrocento art. Between 1459 and 1461, Gozzoli painted what may be considered his most important work: his frescoes of the Magi in the Magi Chapel of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, the Journey of the Magi to Bethlehem, and in the tribune, a composition of Angels in Paradise. Gozzoli incorporated portraits of the Medici family into his fresco The Journey of the Magi. Gozzoli also included his self-portrait in the procession, with his name written around the rim of his cap. His Virgin and Child with Saints of 1461, in the National Gallery, London, belongs also to the period of this stay in Florence.

n 1464 Gozzoli left Florence for San Gimignano, where he executed some extensive works; in the church of Sant'Agostino, a composition of St. Sebastian protecting the City from the Plague of this same year, 1464; over the entire choir of the church, a triple course of scenes from the legends of St Augustine, from the time of his entering the school of Tegaste on to his burial, seventeen chief subjects, with some accessories; in the Pieve di San Gimignano, the Martyrdom of Sebastian, and other subjects, and some further works in the city and its vicinity. Here his style combined something of Filippo Lippi with its original elements, and he received co-operation from Giusto d'Andrea.
He stayed in this city till 1467, and in 1469 began the vast series of mural paintings in the Campo Santo of Pisa with which his name is specially identified. There are twenty-four subjects from the Old Testament, from the Invention of Wine by Noah to the Visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon. He contracted to paint three subjects per year for about ten ducats each. It appears, however, that this contract was not strictly adhered to, for the actual rate of painting was only three pictures in two years. Perhaps the great multitude of figures and accessories was accepted as a set-off against the slower rate of production.
By January 1470 he had executed the fresco of Noah and his Family, followed by the Curse of Ham, the Building of the Tower of Babel (which contains portraits of Cosimo de' Medici, the young Lorenzo, Angelo Poliziano and others), the Destruction of Sodom, the Victory of Abraham, the Marriages of Rebecca and of Rachel, the Life of Moses, etc. In the Cappella Ammannati, facing a gate of the Campo Santo, he painted also an Adoration of the Magi, wherein appears a portrait of himself.

Three Wise Men, fresco in the Magi Chapel of Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence, 1459-1461.
All this enormous mass of work, in which Benozzo was probably assisted by Zanobi Macchiavelli, was performed, in addition to several other pictures during his stay in Pisa (including the Glory of St. Thomas Aquinas, now in the Louvre), in sixteen years, lasting up to 1485. This is the latest date which can with certainty be assigned to any work from his hand. Gozzoli died in Pistoia in 1497, perhaps of a pestilence.
In 1478 the Pisan authorities had given him, as a token of their regard, a tomb in the Campo Santo. He had likewise a house of his own in Pisa, and houses and land in Florence.

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