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Artists of the Italian Renaissance

Byzantine Mosaics of the Magi in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

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La Cappella dei Magi

Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Firenze

(Closed Wednesdays)


Frescoed 1459 - 1462


Benozzo Gozzoli  (c1421 - 1497  (76))


Link to the early Medicis, central figures of the Renaissance

Sandro Botticelli's Painting of the (Medici) Magi Adoring the Virgin

Link to the later Medici Grand Dukes

Link to Books about the Medici



Who the Magi were, plus links to the Magi in Mosaics, Painting and Sculpture



Left:  The east  wall (Caspar and the Medici family and friends), and the south wall (Balthasar).



Right: The south wall (Balthasar) with rebuilt corner and the west wall (Melchior with bifurcated horse, preceded by mounted page)



This excellent little book by Franco Cardini is available in English and  incorporates a fascinating discussion of both the art and history of Medici Florence, and lots of illustrations outside the "standard ones".


 Buy from Amazon USA

 Buy from Amazon UK



The ultimate coffee table art book with dozens of high quality plates of the detail of the Gozzoli Frescos (some of which appear below).  Only available in Italian.


The relatively small chapel in Michelozzo's Medici Palace was frescoed by  Benozzo Gozzoli between 1459 and 1462, with scenes from the Procession of the Magi.   In 1460 Cosimo il Vecchio would have been 71, his son Piero 44, and grandson Lorenzo 11. 


Gozzoli painted the three walls of the body of the chapel above the level of the choir stalls, but what one sees today is a bit less than this because the second owners of the palazzo, the Marchesi Riccardi, decided in the late 1600s to build a massive formal staircase which was to go through the chapel. 


Luckily the protests of the Florentinians forced the building of a landing round the chapel, but the SW corner underwent radical surgery so that the horse of the magi Melchior ended up being cut in two as you can see above right!  In addition several other panels were cut out of the masterpiece.  The Riccardi also sold the altarpiece by Fillipo Lippi - "The Adoration of the Child Jesus".


Above is the East wall procession led by the Magi Caspar.  Tradition has identified the Magi's features (left) as an idealized version of Lorenzo.   The young Lorenzo actually appears in the Medici crowd following the Magi (see below), but this does not invalidate the first hypothesis.


Also in the crowd are Cosimo il Vecchio, Lorenzo's Grandad, and Piero il Gottoso, his Dad, as well as the artist himself  (who has included himself in the procession two or three times) and other Medicis  and "friends" - mostly unidentified but including young nasties Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini, and Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Pavia and later Milan before he was murdered Caesar style on the steps of his Cathedral in 1476.  Some close-ups are shown below.

Bennozo Gozzoli (c1421 - 1497  (76)) (self portrait) Lorenzo de'Medici (il Magnifico) (1449 - 1492 (43))


Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini (1417 - 1468 (51))


Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Pavia (1444 -  1476 (32)) and later, as Duke of Milan, to be murdered on the steps of his cathedral.

Family  Group closer up - incidentally, just above Gozzoli in the red bonnet is the face of the Sienese Pope - Pius II (Piccolomini)  (1405 - 1458 - 1464 (59)) - placed firmly in the back row in this Florentine financed and dominated power group.

Cosimo de'Medici (il Vecchio) (1389 - 1464 (75)) Piero de'Medici (il Gottoso) (1416 - 1469 (53))


The symbolism of the procession was an extraordinarily brazen act, juxta positioning a family of banker-merchants with no title or formal overlordship of anything, with a group of kings - but that was the Medici for you, and they were, after all, bankrolling most of the activities of the Council of Florence (1439)!  


Ideas for the pageantry derive from the Council of Florence in 1439, when many exotic figures from the Eastern Church were parading around Florence; the regular Florentine ceremonies for the Feast of the Magi at Epiphany; and major festivities surrounding the spring 1459 visit to Florence of Galeazzo Maria Sforza as ambassador for Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan and Florence's ally of the day. 


Sienese Pope Pius II also dropped in for a couple of weeks accompanied by the awful Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, but he complained bitterly that he was not looked after in a manner befitting a Pope (though the Florentinians thought that he was looked after in a manner befitting a Sienese Pope).  He also did not get to see Cosimo, who thought that the idea of a crusade for which the Pope was seeking funds was barking mad, and was thus judiciously indisposed.



The magnificently kitted out Magi Balthasar (above and below left) has the face of the penultimate Eastern Emperor John VIII Palaeologus (1390 - 1448).  It is thought that the face of his horse is modelled on a bronze horses head from antiquity then owned by Lorenzo and now in the Florence Archaeological Museum.


The old Magi Melchior was originally thought to be Joseph, Patriarch of Constantinople, who died in Florence during the Council shortly after signing the ineffective reunification agreement, and was buried in Santa Maria Novella.  More recently he has been identified as Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg.


The full breathtaking audacity of the Medici construct becomes clear - Emperor of the West, followed by Emperor of the East, followed by Lorenzo .......


Finally , no one has been able to identify  the lad in blue leading the procession, and this and the identities of most of the other portraits of the movers and shakers of 1460 sadly remain a mystery.


Eastern Emperor John VIII Palaeologus (1390 - 1448)



Eastern Emperor John VIII Palaeologus (1390 - 1448)

(obverse of a medal by Pisanello, 103mm diameter)


A similar image is contained in the Catalogue of a British Museum exhibition "Encounters - Travel and Money in the Byzantine World"


Sigismund of Luxemburg - Holy Roman Emperor


Link to Web Gallery of Art pages on Narrative Fresco Cycles by Benozzo Gozzoli


If you are in the magic little Duomo in Volterra, you will find a smaller and altogether more primitive Magi Procession by Gozzoli who was probably still working up to the main gig.



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