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Benozzo di Lese di Sandro Gozzoli

Italian painter; b. 1420; d. 1497

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Gozzoli , (BENOZZO DI LESE DI SANDRO surnamed GOZZOLI), painter; b. at Florence, 1420; d. at Pisa, 1497. He was a pupil of Fra Angelico, and assisted him in his work at Rome and at Orvieto. It was not until 1449 that Benozzo began to work independently. The principal centers of his artistic activity were Montefalco (1450-1452), Florence (1457-1463), San Gimignano (1464-1467), and Pisa (1469-1485). For the church of San Fortunato, near Montefalco in Umbria, he executed many frescoes, among them an Annunciation, a Madonna, and a few altar-pieces; the best-known are the “Glory of St. Fortunatus”, and the “Madonna of the Holy Girdle” (now in the Lateran Museum). Fra Angelico‘s influence pervades all his work; but the pupil’s own personal traits are always in evidence. In 1452 we find him at Montefalco decorating the church of St. Francis. The frescoes in the choir are the most noteworthy. The ceiling contains grandiose figures of saints; the end wall, the “Glory of St. Francis”; the side walls, the “Life of the Seraphic Patriarch of Assisi” in twelve scenes. At Florence Piero de’ Medici commissioned Benozzo to paint in fresco the chapel of the palace (afterwards known as the Riccardi Palace) which Michelozzo had just built. The altar had already been decorated by a “Nativity” from the hand of Filippo Lippi. On the three principal walls Gozzoli depicted the “Procession of the Magi in quest of the new-born King”. This work which has kept all its original freshness of coloring, is one of the most successful of the Renaissance period, and furnishes a very striking picture of the sumptuous life led in the fifteenth century. All the personages in the caravans are portraits, and include the Medici and their court. Along the sides of its single window are clustered rows of angels so exquisitely graceful in design as to be worthy of Fra Angelico.

In the “city of the beautiful towers” (La città delle belle torri), San Gimignano, Gozzoli painted for the Collegiale a “Martyrdom of St. Sebastian”; along the walls of the choir in San Agostino he set forth St. Augustine’s life in a series of seventeen frescoes, which he employed as a means of introducing the world of learning in the fifteenth century, just as he made use of the Magi caravan to depict its lavish display and luxury in dress. His principal work is in the Campo Santo at Pisa: on its northern wall he painted twenty three subjects, twenty-one of which are taken from the Old Testament, beginning with “Noe’s discovery (or invention) of wine”, and ending with the “Visit of the Queen of Sheba”, a wonderful Biblical epic. During his sojourn at Pisa he found time to paint many other subjects; the principal one is the “Glory of St. Thomas Aquinas”, now in the Louvre. It was, however, in fresco that Gozzoli won for himself an immortal name among Florentine painters. He had the honor of restoring narrative painting to the place it had won for itself in the fourteenth century. Benozzo was a lover of nature, a skillful landscapist, an adept at representing animal life, and clever in the use of ornament. His lively imagination revels in brilliant costumes and splendid architectural detail. Imperfections due to negligence are occasionally met with in his work, also excess of detail and awkwardness of grouping. These faults arise from the exuberance of his talent and are more than counterbalanced by the wonderful quality of his work. Benozzo remained true to the chaste ideals of his master, yet was able to combine in his work the sincerity, the skill, and the veraciousness of a charming story-teller. Pisan gratitude voted Benozzo a tomb in the “gallery” of the Campo Santo he had so magnificently decorated.



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