Gozzoli and the Cappella dei Magi II

1.2 Location, function, form, and tripartition

When you reach the end of the staircase and turn right, you enter the chambers of the capo familia. Piero de Medici was the head of the family at that time. He was the one who commissioned the fresco cycle. The smaller of the two chambers provides access to the portal before the chapel (click here for the floor plan). In the portal, Gozzoli painted the Lamb of God. The chapel is described in several sources. The oldest source is from the architect Antonio di Pietro Averlino, always called Filarete. In book twenty-four of his ‘Treatise on Architecture’ (from 1451-1464), the palace is extensively described. In this description, the following can be read about the chapel: “and there is a fitting painting by the hand of a good Florentine painter. From what I understood, his name is Benozzo.”

Chapel of the Medici view of the choir      Zoom in

Cappella dei Magi view of the choir  Gozzoli

To the right of the chapel was a suite, and next to it was the Camara Grande (see the floor plan by Gherardo Silvani from 1650; the chapel is located at the bottom between A and E; to the left are the staircase and the rooms of the capo familia). Visitors could directly access the chapel’s vestibule without having to walk through the chambers of the capo familia. Additionally, the head of the family could also access his chapel directly from his Camara Grande. Therefore, the chapel had a dual function: private and public. Important guests were received in the chapel. The chapel itself consists of a choir and a seating area with benches. These benches were made in 1469 and designed by Giuliano da Sangallo.

The space behind the two doors, on the right and left, leads to staircases that could be used as escape routes. An escape route to the outside, but also to a secret room upstairs in the palace. In his “De re aedificatoria” (1452 and published in 1485; available in an English translation online, click right te read the the book), Alberti describes that secret spaces and escape routes are absolutely necessary for a palace. Alberti most likely describes the escape routes in the Palazzo of the Medici. Behind the right side chamber is a small sacristy (see floor plan between D and E).

Benozzo Gozzoli ‘Galeazzo Maria Sforza’ Cappella dei Magi

Benozzo Gozzoli ‘Galeazzo Maria Sforza’ East wall

When Galeazzo Maria Sforza visited in April 1459, the ceiling and floor were completed, but the frescoes were not. Ordinary citizens were allowed to view the chapel during this visit, and according to the account of an anonymous poet, the visitors were impressed.

“There is a richly decorated chapel there, unmatched in the universe, so adorned to worship God. And whoever looks closely will say that the shrine belongs to the life-giving Holy Trinity, for everything is beautiful and splendid.” The richness of the altar is also praised by the poet with the following words: “The altar was adorned with gold, silver, velvet, and brocade, without seeming either old-fashioned or modern.” From Acidini Luchinat, C. (edited), ‘The Chapel of the Magi Benozzo Gozzoli’s frescoes in the palazzo Medici-Riccardi Florence’, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London and Thames and Hudson, Inc., 500 fifth Avenue New York 1994 p. 10

A Gothic reliquary stood on the altar. In this reliquary (now in the museum of the Opera dell’ Duomo) was the so-called libretto (the small book). The reliquary had the form of a small triptych that had originally belonged to the French king. The triptych contained many holy relics, including the instruments of the Passion.

Agnolo Bronzino ‘Piero de Medici’ 1550 -1570

The space in front of the choir, the part where the altar stands, and the altarpiece are three worlds. The title of Gentile Becchi (Ghirlandaio: portrait of Becchi), the tutor of Lorenzo and Giuliano (sons of Piero de Medici), alongside a poem and the verse itself, are important keys to understanding the altarpiece and the fresco cycle.

Furthermore, the Lamb of God in the vestibule above the original entrance reveals the deeper meaning of Benozzo Gozzoli’s frescoes and Filippo Lippi’s altarpiece.

Gozzoli ‘Lamb of God’       In situ

Gozzoli 'Lamb of God' Cappella dei Magi
photos: Sailko

Continuation Florence day 6: Gozzoli and the Cappella dei Magi III