ARTS: DEFINITELY ONE OF THE MUST-SEE SIGHTS IN FLORENCE
It’s the famous Cappella dei Magi decorated by Benozzo Gozzoli in 1459-60 as a private place of worship for the Medici family in their newly built Palazzo in via Larga (now via Cavour).
The chapel is on the piano nobile of the palace, and was one of the first decorations executed after the completion of the edifice by Michelozzo. Gozzoli painted his cycle over three of the walls, the subject being the Journey of the Magi to Bethlehem, a virtually never-ending train of followers surrounds the Three Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem, but the religious theme was a pretext to depict the procession of important people who arrived in Florence in occasion of the Council of Florence (1439). The Medici could boast to have favoured the reconciliation between the Catholic and the Byzantine churches. The luxury of the Byzantine dignitaries is manifest, and shows the impression they would have at the time on the Florentine population. Over a landscape depicted in incredible detail and probably influenced by Early Netherlandish artists (perhaps through tapestries), Gozzoli portrayed the members of the Medici family riding in the foreground of the fresco on the wall at the right of the altar. A young Lorenzo il Magnifico leads the procession on a white horse, followed by his father Piero the Gouty and the family founder, Cosimo. Then come Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta and Galeazzo Maria Sforza, respectively lord of Rimini and Milan: they did not take part in the Council, but were guests of the Medici in Florence in the time the frescoes were painted. After them is a procession of illustrious Florentines, such as the humanists Marsilio Ficino and the Pulci brothers, the members of the Art Guilds and Benozzo himself. The painter can be recognized for he is looking towards the observer and for the scroll on his red hat, reading Opus Benotii. On the following wall, the bearded character on a white horse is the Byzantine emperor John VIII Palaiologos; the three girls next to him have been identified as the three daughters of Piero de’ Medici, Nannina, Bianca and Maria. Finally, on the wall to the left of the altar are Pope Pius II, portrayed as an old man on a mule, preceded by Lorenzo’s elder brother, Giuliano, carrying a leopard on his horse. In the same scene can be seen the Joseph, Patriarch of Constantinople and other Byzantine dignitaries, surrounded by exotic animals, such as a lynx and a falcon. Visitors can only enter the chapel in tiny groups that can stay there for seven minutes, during which one cannot help feeling daunted by the several hundred square feet of lavishly detailed frescos. But here’s the good news: a unique multimedia system has just been installed to complement the visit by helping visitors learn and familiarize with the hidden meanings of the scene and characters before they proceed to the chapel itself. users can interact in a truly natural way with multimedia audio and video contents: visitors can select the language of their choice, navigate information windows, scroll presentations and enter virtual environments all without wearing or handling any kind of device, but simply by pointing their hand in the air towards buttons and spots of interest on a large screen. The project is called Laboratorio di Lorenzo (Lorenzo’s workshop) because it is located in the ground-floor room at the NW corner of the palace inner courtyard which is supposed to have been the splendid chamber of Lorenzo il Magnifico as recorded in the inventory of the property that was compiled on his death in 1492.
by Paul Lidka
Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Via Cavour, 3 – 055.2760340
Closed on Wednesdays
John VIII Palaiologos
portrayed as Balthasar