Gozzoli and the Cappella dei Magi V

3.     The fresco cycle and the altarpiece

3.2. The walls

East wall       Zoom in

Gozzoli Cappella dei Magi East wall frescos

The castle on the east wall, where the journey begins, resembles the Villa Cafaggiolo (Wikipedia), designed by Michelozzo in 1451 at the behest of Cosimo. The caravan then descends, winding its way down. Most of the portraits can be found on this wall. Gozzoli devoted eleven giornati to the portraits.

The Castle

Gozzoli East wall detail: Castle Cappella dei Magi

On the opposite wall, near the old king, only five day parts were devoted to known figures. Near a narrow ravine next to an orange tree, in the lower left corner of the image, a large group of travelers arrives. Here, a whopping forty portraits are painted. The space in which the figures are placed is not very credible and reminiscent of Gentile da Fabriano’s altarpiece of the Adoration of the Magi.

In the background, we see hunting scenes. There are many sources from the fifteenth century describing extensive hunting expeditions in the hills surrounding Florence. The deer was considered one of the noblest prey.

Deer hunting        Hunter on a horse       Deer

Gozzoli East wall detail: Deer hunting 
Cappella dei Magi

South wall       Brigata and the King       Landscape

Gozzoli South wall Cappella dei Magi

Three young knights

The birds in the sky (south wall, such as the falcon with its prey in its claws (west wall), indicate the popular falconry of that time. The transition from the east to the adjacent south wall is made by three horseback riders. Three young knights are just taking the turn and continuing their journey across the plain. In the background, we see a landscape with winding roads, castles, and settlements.

Gozzoli South wall detail: 'Three young knights' Cappella dei Magi
Gozzoli 'Middle-aged King' Cappella dei Magi

The middle-aged King

The middle king looks slightly upwards. Is he seeing the shining star that guided the company? Even the donkey on the narrow right wall seems to be looking at the star on the opposite wall in the fresco. Unfortunately, part of the wall is missing, so it’s not certain whether Gozzoli actually painted the usual star here.

Brigata and the King

Cappella dei Magi Brigata and the King Gozzoli

In the southwest corner near the door, Jacopo Chiavistelli painted a landscape after the construction of the staircase, closely resembling the landscape with the old king. The donkey on which the old king sits has been divided into two by the movement of a part of the east wall. Only a leg of one of the pages remains.

West and New wall
Gozzoli part west wall in situ               Chiavistelli new wall in situ
Part west wall moved forward           Part west wall remained in place

Cappella dei Magi West and New wall

West wall

Cappella dei Magi  West wall Gozzoli

During that time, an ass was considered more suitable for an old man due to its slow pace than a horse. In the stream just before the old king, the reflection can be seen of the page on horseback with a gift in his hand. Also on the western wall, in the background, similar to the opposite wall, hunting scenes are painted. A leopard leaps at a bull’s throat, while to the right of this, a deer is being chased. At the top, to the right in the image, a dog hunts a hare. Near the ass with a melancholic-looking monkey on its back, the procession makes a sharp turn to the left.

Part of the Westwall       Reflection in the water      Cheetahs      Falcon

Cappella dei Magi Gozzoli Part Westwall

Here too, there are many portraits, including the two self-portraits of the painter mentioned earlier. The man raising his right hand and clearly showing his fingers is Benozzo Gozzoli.

Gozzoli 'Self-portrait'

Gozzoli ‘Self-portrait’

He turns around and looks at the wall with the young king where he also portrayed himself. Perhaps the hand gesture is a farewell gesture, or does the artist want to convey with his raised hand that he personally painted the frescoes? Just as Benozzo did by painting the words “OPVS BENOTHII D [E?]” or “work of Benozzo” on the headgear of his other self-portrait? Behind Gozzoli’s self-portrait, the procession leaves the plain. Part of the winding procession even disappears entirely from the picture plane.

Giuliano de Medici       Portrait      Cheetah

The journey goes up into the mountains. On the steep path upward, there is a fairy-tale atmosphere: two dark figures on the backs of camels, donkeys loaded with gifts, and judging by their clothing and beards, many Eastern figures. A drawing from 1459 by Benozzo Gozzoli, now in the British Museum, closely resembles the man with the dog in the fresco.

Journey into the mountains        Man with a dog        Study of the man with a dog

Cappella dei Magi 'Journey into the mountains 'Gozzoli    
Gozzoli study drawing ‘Dog chasing a hare’ 1455 National Gallery of Art Washington D.C.

For the horses, the artist used prints of antique sculptures and bronzes, among other things. Gozzoli himself made study drawings of animals, including a dog chasing a hare (National Gallery of Art Washington, D.C.) and one of the classical horses (British museum) at the Quirinal in Rome.

Shepards (left)     In situ     Shepards (right)     In situ

Gozzoli 'Shepards' Cappella dei Magi

On the narrow walls next to the Corinthian pilasters, the shepherds are depicted. On the right, the donkey looks out from the fresco, and on the left, the ox looks back at the caravan approaching. The landscape seamlessly matches that of the other walls.

A shepherd lost in thought

The posture of the two animals is completely in line with the usual iconography. In Isaiah 1:3, it is written: “The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger.” The ox was seen as a clean and faithful animal and usually depicted next to Christ. The donkey, on the other hand, was considered unclean and a representative of the heathens. It is usually placed next to the manger. The shepherds do not yet know that the Child is born; they stare at the ground, lost in thought.

Gozzoli 'Shepherd lost in thought' Cappella dei Magi

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