The Medici and Gozzoli's Magi

Malcolm Oxley on how the Christmas story was co-opted into politics and social aspirations in Renaissance Florence.

The modern visitor to Florence rightly seeks out the Medici town palace on the Via Cavour. A major attraction of the visit is the family chapel on the first floor whose walls are adorned with the frescoes of Benozzo Gozzoli usually called 'The Procession of the Magi' executed in l459. Restored in 1992 to celebrate the quincentenary of the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-92), the pictures dazzle today's visitor as they must have impressed contemporaries by their glorious colours, dynamic, perspectival composition and superbly' detailed observation.

Cosimo de Medici (1389-1464) commissioned the building of the palace in 1444 from his 'in-house' architect Michelozzo in what was then the Via Larga. This town house, with its references to the architecture of antiquity, was one of several major pieces of patronage following the return of the Medici from political exile in 1434 and marking Cosimo's arrival as the effective ruler of the Florentine republic. These commissions which expressed visually the reality of his power and status included the rebuilding of his parish church of San Marco and the re-foundation of San Marco as a con- vent for the reformed Dominicans.

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