Benozzo GozzoliBenozzo di Lese (Alesso) was born in Florence in 1420-21. His father, Lese, was a farsettaio (a tailor or ‘maker of doublets’), who lived on the Via del Fiore in the Santo Spirito quarter but whose family was originally from San Ilario a Colombaia in the region of Badia a Settimo, west of the city. ‘Gozzoli’ (literally ‘Thick Neck’) appears to derive from ‘Ghozzolo’, a family name. Benozzo was already active as a painter by October 1439, when he helped to decorate a funeral pall (cloth covering a coffin) for the Compagnia di Sant’Agnese al Carmine. Vasari asserts that he was a discepolo (pupil or disciple) of Fra Angelico, and his hand has often been detected in some of the cell frescoes at San Marco (early 1440s). On 24 January 1444 he contracted to work for Lorenzo Ghiberti for three years on the third Baptistery door (the panels of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and David and Goliath have sometimes been ascribed to him). By March 1447 he was working in Rome for Fra Angelico, whom he also assisted at Orvieto.
His earliest surviving important work as an independent master was at Montefalco (1450-52); he was then at Viterbo (1453) and Rome (1458), before returning for a time to Florence (1459-62), where he painted his hugely famous and popular frescoes of the Procession of the Magi in the private chapel of the Palazzo Medici. A period of intense activity at San Gimignano (1463-67) included a major fresco cycle of the Life of St Augustine in the choir of Sant’Agostino. He spent most of his last thirty years at Pisa (1468-94/95), where he frescoed an immense cycle of twenty-six biblical scenes for the Camposanto and painted altarpieces and frescoes for churches and convents. He also in his later years frescoed a number of country tabernacles, which are mostly now very damaged. The political situation following the expulsion of the Medici from Florence in 1494 seems to have forced the elderly Benozzo to leave Pisa. He moved to Pistoia, where he died, probably of the plague, on 4 October 1497. He was buried in the cloister of the convent of San Domenico there (and not in the Camposanto at Pisa, as Vasari believed).
Benozzo painted more in fresco than most of his contemporaries, and much of his work is still in situ or in regional museums in Tuscany and Umbria. If not perhaps the highest art, his fresco cycles can be enjoyed for their lively story-telling and interesting descriptions of contemporary life. His considerable output was achieved with the help of assistants, including Giovanni (della Cecca) di Mugello and Giusto d’Andrea (previously an assistant of Neri di Bicci and Filippo Lippi); late in life, he was assisted by his sons Francesco and Alesso.
Assisi. San Francesco. Museo del Tesoro.
Head of Christ crowned with Thorns. Parchment, 40 x 29.
The words inscribed on the halo ('Jesus Christ, King of the Jews') are those on the sign nailed to the top of the Cross at the Crucifixion. The inscription on the neck of Christ's tunic ('King of King and Lord of Lords') is from I Timothy: 6, 15. This small devotional painting is executed in pen and tempera on a sheet of vellum, which has been glued onto a panel. From the sacristy of the Lower Church, where it is first recorded in 1613. The attribution to Benozzo was made in 1921 (by Mario Salmi). It has had a fair measure of support, though attributions have also been made to Umbrian painters (Benedetto Bonfigli and Bartolomeo Caporali). There is a rather similar Head of Christ, attributed to Fra Angelico and perhaps the inspiration for the Assisi painting, in the Museo Civico at Livorno.
Avignon. Musée de Petit Palais.
Santa Fina and Mary Magdalene. Wood, 23 x 43.
Santa Fina (previously described as St Dorothy or St Rose) is identified by the bouquet of violets she is holding. A predella panel, probably from a church in San Gimignano, where Santa Fina was greatly venerated. Other predella panels in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection at Madrid (representing St Jerome and a Monk) and at Milan (the Dead Christ) are likely to have belonged to the same altarpiece, which was probably painted in the mid-1460s. One of almost 650 early Italian pictures acquired by the French state in 1861 from the collection confiscated by the Papal States from the disgraced Marchese Giampietro Campana; from 1872 until 1975 it was exhibited in the museum at Béziers.
Bergamo. Accademia Carrara.
Saint John the Evangelist. Wood, 21 x 22.
A small, damaged fragment, probably from a predella. Bequeathed with the collection of the art historian Giovanni Morelli in 1891.
A Miracle of St Zenobius. Wood, 24 x 34.
St Zenobius, one of the patron saints of Florence, restores to life a widow’s son killed by an ox cart. The picture repeats, with some differences, the composition of Domenico Veneziano’s panel of the same subject in Cambridge. From the predella of an altarpiece commissioned in 1461 by the Compagnia della Purificazione della Vergine, a confraternity attached to the church of San Marco at Florence. The altarpiece had left the confraternity’s oratory by 1757, and the predella had been detached by 1785, when its five panels were in the possession of the Marchese Alfonso Tacoli Canacci of Florence. The Berlin panel, formerly in the famous Paris collection of the banker Rodolphe Kann, was acquired by the museum in 1909. The main panel of the altarpiece is in the National Gallery, London, and the other four predella panels are in Milan, Washington, Philadelphia and the British Royal Collection.
Calci (near Pisa). Parish church.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 75 x 45.
This strangely archaicising Madonna, crowned and represented against a background of red damask, is reckoned to be a late work, dating from Benozzo’s Pisan period and probably painted with studio assistance. It was originally in the nearby Dominican convent. Stolen in 1994 but subsequently recovered.
Cambridge (Mass.). Fogg Museum of Art.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 47 x 37.
The child holds a pomegranate and a goldfinch perches on his knee. This ruined panel is one of two Madonnas of similar design once owned by Baron Tucher of Vienna; the other, probably painted from the same cartoon, is now in Detroit. When acquired in 1907 as a gift of the Harvard art historian Edward Waldo Forbes, the Fogg picture was completely repainted in oil and had a modern gilt background. Restoration in 1922 revealed the dreadfully abraded condition of the original paint surface. Little remains of the faces of the Madonna and Child.
Castelfiorentino. Museo Benozzo Gozzoli.
Tabernacle of the Visitation (or of the ‘Madonna delle Grazie’).
One of a number of shrines frescoed by Benozzo in relatively remote places in the Val d’Elsa. Frescoed inside and out, it was originally located on Via Volterra on the outskirts of Castelfiorentino. It contained two rows of frescoes depicting scenes from the Life of the Virgin. Most of the lower section was destroyed by flooding of the nearby river Elsa, while the parts nearest the roof have been damaged by damp. Among the best-preserved scenes are Joachim’s Expulsion from the Temple, Joachim among the Shepherds, the Meeting at the Golden Gate and Nativity of the Virgin. An inscription, long lost, is said to have attributed the frescoes to Benozzo and his sons Francesco and Alesso, and given the date as 12 February 1491. In 1872 the tabernacle was enclosed in a new chapel, which failed to prevent the paintings deteriorating. The surviving frescoes were removed from the walls in 1965, mounted on masonite panels and then assembled to reconstruct the tabernacle. Before the new museum opened in 2009, they were exhibited in the Biblioteca Comunale at Castelfiorentino. Several sinopie, discovered when the frescoes were detached in 1965, are also exhibited in the new museum.
Tabernacle of the ‘Madonna della Tosse’.
Over the altar: a fictive altarpiece of the Madonna between SS. Peter, Catherine, Margaret and Paul; a Pietà in the predella. At the sides: Death and Assumption of the Virgin. On the vault: the Four Evangelists and Christ Blessing. An inscription on the front of the shrine states that it was completed on 28 December 1484 for Ser Grazia di Francesco, prior of Santa Maria at Castelnuova. The elderly donor is shown kneeling (centre foreground) in the Death of the Virgin on the right wall. The two youths kneeling on the right of the scene are probably relatives (the older perhaps Grazia’s cousin Simone di Taviano, who succeeded him as parish priest). Benozzo’s assistants on this late work are likely to have included his son Francesco. The tabernacle was originally located on the road from Castelfiorentino to Castelnuovo d’Elsa. It was built in the form of a chapel (3.35-3.85 metres wide by 3.5 deep by 4.5 high), enclosed on three sides and with a gabled roof. It was called the ‘Madonna della Tosse’ because parents took their children there seeking divine protection from whooping cough. The tabernacle was transformed into a neo-Gothic oratory in 1853. But, with a stream running under the site, the frescoes continued to be affected by damp and were eventually covered with a thick layer of limescale. They were detached from the walls in 1970, restored and mounted on fibreglass. The reassembled tabernacle was left in storage until 1987 and then put on exhibition in the Biblioteca Comunale at Castelfiorentino. Along with the Tabernacle of the Visitation, it was installed in the purpose-built new museum in 2009.
Caselfiorentino. Palazzo Comunale.
Saint Verdiana. Fresco.
The fresco is on the first floor in the present Ufficio del Sindaco (Office of the Mayor). Framed within a floral border, it shows Castelfiorentino’s patron saint in a nun’s habit holding a wicker basket and feeding snakes. On the evidence of the coat-of-arms nearby, it was commissioned by the Podestà Jacopo Peri. It was probably executed around 1490 by Benozzo’s workshop.
Certaldo. Palazzo Pretorio.
Frescoed Tabernacle (‘Tabernacolo dei Giustiziati’).
On the outside walls: Crucifixion and Martyrdom of St Sebastian; over the arch: Annunciation; on the underside of the arch: God the Father and Evangelists; and inside: Descent from the Cross. The tabernacle originally stood outside the town, near the bridge over the river Agliena, where criminals were executed. The condemned were given religious consolation at the shrine by a lay fraternity (Compagnia della Giustiziati). Damaged by exposure, the frescoes were detached in 1957, transferred to canvas, and moved to the former church of Santi Tommaso e Prospero (next to the Palazzo Pretorio). They date from the mid-1460s, when Benozzo was based in San Gimignano. Much of the work was evidently done by assistants, including Giusto d’Andrea.
Detroit. Institute of Arts.
Madonna with Cherubim and Seraphim. Wood, 85 x 51.
The Child holds a goldfinch in his left hand and makes a gesture of blessing with his right. Much better preserved than the version in the Fogg Museum – although the cropped wings of the angels suggest that it has been cut down substantially at the sides and the traces of other angels at the foot of the panel suggest that it has been cut down substantially at the bottom. The Madonna may originally have been enthroned in a mandorla. The panel probably dates from Benozzo’s Florentine period (1459-64). It was first recorded, already cut down, in 1908 in the collection of Baron H. von Tucher in Vienna. Bequeathed by Eleanor Ford in 1977.
SS. Bartholomew, John the Baptist and James the Great. Wood, 171 x 23.
A companion panel in the Accademia, representing SS, Michael, Lawrence and Leonard, is attributed to Domenico di Michelino. The two tall slender panels are often stated to have belonged to the side pilasters of the altarpiece commissioned in 1461 by the Compagnia della Purificazione della Vergine. This seems rather unlikely, however, as John the Baptist is represented in the main panel (now in London) and it would be unusual for the same saint to appear twice in an altarpiece.
Florence. Museo di San Marco.
Predella. Wood, 25 x 224.
The three subjects are the Pietà in the centre; the Mystical Marriage of St Catherine on the left; and St Anthony Abbot and St Benedict on the right. Well preserved. From the church of Santa Croce; transferred to the Uffizi in 1847 and thence recently to the San Marco Museum. The main panel of the altarpiece is untraced.
Frescoes in the Cells.
Fra Angelico’s assistants and collaborators at the time of his work at San Marco (about 1438-44) are not recorded, but are generally believed to have included the young Benozzo Gozzoli, who is later documented as working with him at Rome and Orvieto. Benozzo is often credited with most of the execution of the Adoration of the Magi in the large cell (number 39) that was used by Cosimo de’ Medici. (This fresco was completely overpainted before restoration in 1975-83.) Benozzo’s hand has also been detected in the Crucifixion with SS. Cosmas, Damian, John and Peter in the adjoining cell (number 38), the Agony in the Garden (cell 34) and a number of other frescoes. (A dissenting voice has been that of Miklós Boskovits, who, writing in the catalogue to the 2002 Benozzo Gozzoli exhibition at Montefalco, denies the role usually ascribed to Benozzo at San Marco and argues for Angelico’s authorship of the entire cycle of frescoes.)
Florence. Horne Museum.
Deposition. Canvas, 180 x 300.
There is a small background scene (right) of the Lamentation over the Dead Christ. This large, possibly unfinished and very damaged canvas is one of Benozzo’s very last works. According to Herbert Horne’s own researches, it was one of two canvases sold by his sons on 3 October 1497, the day before his death, to the episcopate of Pistoia. It was later owned by the Sozzifanti family at its villa at Imbarcati. Horne acquired it in 1907. Restored in 1991. The colours have darkened irreversibly with time. The participation of an assistant ('Alunno di Benozzo') is sometimes suspected.
Florence. Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. Chapel.
Procession of the Magi. Fresco.
In a continuous scene around the walls of the small chapel, the Three Kings and their splendid retinue – knights, squires and pages, citizens on horseback and foot, and huntsmen with hawks, dogs and cheetahs – wind through a rich Tuscan landscape. The first king (the elderly Melchior) is often identified as a portrait of the Patriarch Joseph II of Constantinople, the second (the dark-skinned Balthazar) as a portrait of John VIII Palaeologus, Emperor of the East, and the third (the youthful Caspar) as a portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici. These identifications are hypothetical. Balthazar does somewhat resemble the Emperor Palaeologus (as represented on Pisanello's famous portrait medal), but Melchior bears little obvious resemblance to known portraits of the Patriarch Joseph II (the frescoed effigy on his tomb in Santa Maria Novella shows him completely bald). It has been claimed that the laurel bush behind Caspar identifies the young king as Lorenzo (Laurentius in Latin). However, Lorenzo would probably have been only around ten years old when the fresco was painted.
The escort that rides behind the Three Kings includes many portraits of the Medici family and court. The identity of many of the figures is either unknown or disputed, but the following identifications are generally accepted. Cosimo is represented as the old man riding a mule in the foreground. His eldest son Piero (Il Gottoso) rides just in front of him on a white horse. Carlo, Cosimo's illegitimate son by a Circassian slave girl, appears in profile behind Piero. The two horsemen on Cosimo's right are Galeazzo Maria Sforza (the teenage son of the condottiere Francesco Sforza, a key ally of the Medici) and Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta (Lord of Rimini and another Medici ally). Both Galeazzo and Sigismondo had visited Florence in April 1459 to join the retinue of Pope Pius II, who was attempting to organise a new crusade against the Turks. In the midst of the throng of Medici relations and associates is Benozzo himself, identified by the gold inscription on his red hat.
On the vertical strips of wall above the two sacristy doors are frescoed the shepherds tending their flocks on Holy Night, and on the side walls of the little apse are choirs of angels in a landscape. The picture originally on the altar was painted by Filippo Lippi and is now at Berlin. It has been replaced by a fifteenth-century copy ascribed to Lippi's workshop (or to the Pseudo Pier Francesco Fiorentino, an anonymous follower of Lippi). Of the symbols of the Four Evangelists, only St John's eagle and St Matthew's angel survive on the corners of the altar wall. On the ceiling above the altar is a gilded star containing the monogram of the Holy Name of Jesus.
We know from letters by Benozzo to Piero de’ Medici in July and September 1459 that the frescoes were then approaching completion. They were painted partly in true fresco and partly a secco, with lavish use of ultramarine and gold leaf. Cleaning in 1988-92 removed some seventeenth-century repainting and restored the original brilliance of the colour.
One of Benozzo's most beautiful drawings is a study (brown ink and wash, with white heightening and gold touches, on pink paper) for the angels to the left of the altar niche. Formerly in the collection of the Earl of Harewood, it was accepted by the British Government in 2017 in lieu of inheritance tax and is now at the British Museum.
Legoli (near Peccioli, between Pontedera and Volterra).
The tabernacle, frescoed on all four walls, still stands at the entrance to the village. The fragmentary scenes include: a Crucifixion and Saints (the central scene under the arch); Annunciation (arch); Virgin and Child with Saints (back wall); Doubting Thomas (left wall); and Martyrdom of St Sebastian (on the exposed north wall and particularly ruined). Hastily executed late works, probably painted in 1478-79 when there was an outbreak of the plague in Pisa and Benozzo took refuge at Legoli. A little funerary chapel was erected around the tabernacle in 1822.
London. National Gallery.
Virgin and Child enthroned with Saints and Angels. Wood, 162 x 170.
The names of the saints are boldly inscribed on the haloes. On the left, SS. Zenobius (in a cope ornamented with New Testament scenes) and John the Baptist are shown standing and Jerome kneeling. On the right, SS. Dominic and Peter are standing and Francis kneeling. Benozzo was contracted to paint the altarpiece on 23 October 1461 for the Compagnia della Purificazione della Vergine (also called the Compagnia di San Marco and Compagnia di Zanobi). The confraternity, founded in 1427 for young men aged between thirteen and twenty-one, met in a room off the second cloister of the church of San Marco in Florence. The confraternity was dedicated to the Feast of the Purification – a mid-winter festival (Candlemas) celebrated with candlelight processions. The contract specified that the Madonna should be a replica of the figure in Fra Angelico’s high altarpiece of San Marco, but Benozzo seems to have taken little notice of this clause. The altarpiece was to be completed by 1 November 1462, but payments continued until 10 August 1463. The fee was 300 livres piccioli. In 1506 the altarpiece was moved to the confraternity’s new oratory across the street from the church. By 1757 it had been removed to the refectory of the Ospedale dei Pellegrini in Via San Gallo. After the suppression of the Ospedale and the confraternity in 1784, their property was sold and the picture entered the Rinuccini collection. It was bought by the National Gallery from the estate of the last Rinuccini marchese for £138 in 1855. Well preserved, apart from the sky and the trees (which are partly repainted). One of five panels from the predella is in the British Royal Collection; the others are dispersed between the museums in Berlin, Milan, Philadelphia and Washington.
The Abduction of Helen. Wood, 51 x 61.
Helen (on the back of the man in the centre) is abducted from the Temple of Apollo by Paris (standing in armour on the left). This delightful little octagonal panel is sometimes described as a desco da parto (a tray given in celebration of a birth), but is perhaps more likely to have been part of the decoration of a chest. The first recorded attribution (1845) was to Gentile da Fabriano. An attribution to Benozzo Gozzoli was made after the picture entered the National Gallery in 1857 with the Lombardi-Baldi collection. If by Benozzo, the picture would have to be very early. In her 1996 monograph, Diane Cole Ahl calls it 'possibly his earliest surviving work' and dates it around 1437-39. Attributions have also been made to Giovanni Boccati, Domenico di Michelino and, particularly, Zanobi Strozzi. The Strozzi attribution was first published in 1950 (by Licia Collobi Ragghianti in Critica d'Arte) and has been adopted by the National Gallery since 2001.
Virgin and Child with Angels (no. 5581). Wood, 34 x 26.
This small panel may have been half of a diptych. There have been previous attributions to Fra Angelico (or a follower), to the provincial Giovanni Boccati da Camerino and to the young Domenico Veneziano. A preponderance of recent opinion favours an attribution to Benozzo as a very early work (late 1440s?). Once owned by the wealthy poet Samuel Rogers and later in the famous collection of Sir Francis Cook at Doughty House, Richmond. Acquired in 1945.
Virgin and Child with Angels (no. 2863). Wood, 137 x 89.
A smaller variant, without the saints, of the altarpiece of 1461-62 in the National Gallery. Usually regarded as the work of a Florentine or Umbrian follower, but attributed to Benozzo himself, as a very early work (1440-47), by Anna Padoa Rizzo in her 2003 monograph on the artist. Very damaged and restored and not normally exhibited. From the collection of Sir Henry Wagner of Brighton, a barrister and noted polymath, who presented ten early Italian paintings to the National Gallery between 1912 and 1924.
London. Royal Collection.
Death of Simon Magus. Wood, 24 x 36.
This little picture is based not on the account of Simon Magus in the Acts of the Apostles but on the story in the medieval Catalogus Sanctorum et Gestorum Eorum of Petrus de Natalibus. Simon Magus was a magician who boasted he could fly. He is shown twice: supported by devils above his wooden scaffold and lying dead on the ground ‘with all his limbs broken’. The Emperor Nero is enthroned on the left with his guard, St Paul kneels praying, and St Peter orders the devils to drop Simon Magus to the ground. The panel is from the predella of the altarpiece ordered in 1461 by the Compagnia della Purificazione della Vergine, the main panel of which is now in the National Gallery, London. The four other predella panels are divided between museums in Berlin, Milan, Philadelphia and Washington. The panel in the Royal Collection was bought by Prince Albert in 1846 for just £25. (It was one of seven panel paintings acquired by the Prince in 1846 from Warner Ottley – the younger brother of William Young Ottley, who had built up a pioneering collection of 'primitives' in Italy in the 1790s.) The panel has sometimes been displayed at the National Gallery, but is presently exhibited in the Cumberland Art Gallery at Hampton Court. Another predella panel of this subject by Benozzo (Metropolitan Museum, New York) is larger and broadly reverses the composition.
Madrid. Thyssen-Bornesmisza Collection.
St Jerome and a Monk (Beato Bartolo Buompedoni). Wood, 30 x 51.
The penitent St Jerome holds a rosary and beats his breast with a stone. The identification of the right-hand figure as Beato Bartolo Buompedoni is plausibly based on a close resemblance to a portrayal of Beato Bartolo by Benozzo on the left pier of the choir of Sant'Agostino at San Gimignano. Beato Bartolo was a thirteenth-century Franciscan who ran a leper refuge in his native San Gimignano. The little panel is clearly from a predella – probably one belonging to an altarpiece painted in the mid-1460s for a church in San Gimignano. A panel in the Petit Palais at Avignon (representing Santa Fina and Mary Magdalene) and another in the Brera (representing the Man of Sorrows) are thought to have come from the same predella. Acquired by Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza by 1930.
A Miracle of St Dominic. Wood, 25 x 35.
The panel shows the boy Napoleone being tramped to death by a white horse, and his miraculous restoration to life by St Dominic. From the predella of the altarpiece commissioned in 1461 by the Compagnia della Purificazione della Vergine, the main panel of which is in London. The predella panels were arranged according to the placing of the saints in the main panel. The Brera panel was on the extreme right. Acquired by the Brera in 1900 from the sculptor Achille Alberti.
Man of Sorrows. Wood, 29 x 72.
The centre of a predella, to which may also have belonged panels at Avignon and Madrid (Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection). Bequeathed by Anna Gnecchi Ruscone in 1968.
Montefalco. Pinacoteca (San Francesco).
Choir. Life of St Francis. Frescoes.
The twelve scenes (each around 300/270 x 220) fill the five walls of the Gothic choir in three courses, beginning (bottom left) with the saint’s birth in a stable and ending (upper right) with his death. Several of the compositions were inspired by the cycle in the Upper Church at Assisi. The six sections of the ribbed vault show St Francis in Glory and five other saints (Louis of Toulouse, Catherine of Siena, Bernardino, Clare and Anthony of Padua). On the narrow strip of wall between the frescoes and the choir stalls, there are medallions depicting twenty Franciscan monks and (beneath the window) Petrarch, Dante and Giotto. The scrolls held by the angels on the pilasters give (on the right) the name of the artist and the date, 1452, when the frescoes were completed and (on the left) the name of Fra Jacopo di Montefalco, the Franciscan prior who commissioned the work. The stained glass, which depicted St Francis before the Speaking Crucifix at San Damiano, was destroyed when the chapel window was enlarged.
The condition of the frescoes is uneven. The vault and tops of the lunettes are water-damaged. A few scenes – most noticeably the Death of the Knight of Celano on the right wall – have suffered significant losses, but most are complete. The vault was shaken by the earthquake of September 1997 and had to be shored up by scaffolding. The whole cycle was subsequently restored between February 1999 and October 2000. A further restoration in 2018 concentrated on the damaged medallions of Petrarch, Dante and Giotto beneath the window.
Chapel of San Girolamo (1st left). Frescoes.
A fictive Gothic Polyptych is frescoed in the centre of the altar wall. It represents the Madonna and Child enthroned with St Anthony of Padua, St Jerome, John the Baptist and St Louis of Toulouse. The pinnacles depict Christ Blessing and the Doctors of the Church, and the predella shows the Man of Sorrows between the Virgin and St John and four pairs of saints. A Crucifixion is frescoed above the polyptych. St Dominic and St Francis are shown kneeling to the left of the cross, and St Romuald and St Sylvester are to the right. Two scenes from St Jerome’s life are frescoed at the sides of the polyptych: the saint departs from Rome (left) and he removes the thorn from the lion's paw (right). The Four Evangelists on the vault resemble those by Fra Angelico in the Chapel of Nicholas V in the Vatican. In the archway, there is a fresco of Christ Blessing surrounded by Angels, with St Sebastian on the left pier and St Bernardino of Siena and St Catherine of Alexandria on the right pier. Signed below the scene of St Jerome extracting the thorn, and dated 1 November 1452 (lower down at the side).
Other frescoes showing scenes from St Jerome's life were destroyed in 1610, when the left wall of the chapel was demolished and a new entrance was built. The surviving frescoes, which were heavily repainted in old restorations, are considerably abraded and have suffered substantial losses. The latest restoration was completed in 2003.
Montefalco. Convent of Santa Chiara.
Saint Clare of Montefalco. Fresco.
St Clare of Montefalco was a renowned mystic who founded the church on this site in 1303. According to a notice in the convent's archives, Benozzo restored ('made new again') a fresco of her in 1452. The fresco has survived, but it is in the attic of the convent and cannot be seen.
Montefalco (near). San Fortunato.
The convent church is a mile outside the town on the Spoleto road. Above the entrance is a frescoed lunette (damaged by exposure and partly repainted) of the Madonna with Seven Angels and St Francis and St Bernardino. Over the second altar on the right is a fresco (now enclosed in a stucco frame) of St Fortunatus enthroned with Angels. The saint holds the staff that is supposed to have flowered when placed on his grave. The fresco was reduced in size when the altar was renovated in the seventeenth century. On the right of the entrance is a fresco (of which only the right half is preserved) of the Virgin and Angels adoring the Child. The fresco is signed and dated 1450 (on the base of the pilaster of the Virgin's throne). It is Benozzo's earliest signed and dated work. The altarpiece of the church, painted at the same time, is now in the Vatican Gallery. The frescoes and altarpiece were commissioned by Fra Antonio, a native of Montefalco, fervent preacher and Provincial General of the Franciscan Observant reform movement.
Narni. Pinacoteca Comunale.
Annunciation. Wood, 120 x 140.
Signed. Undated, but clearly an early work (about 1447-50?) influenced by Fra Angelico’s famous Annunciations. From the church of San Domenico at Narni, where it hung in the second chapel on the left. The pictures from the church passed to the Commune in 1867. The panel has been damaged by worm and splitting, and much of the paint surface is abraded. The picture has been cut down substantially at the sides and top edge, removing the tips of the angel's wings and part of the Holy Spirit. Restored five times in the twentieth century and again in 2002. A theory that the picture was commissioned by Cardinal Berardo Eroli rests on a similarity between the foliage on the pilaster in the centre of the composition and that in the Eroli coat-of-arms.
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
Predella Panels. Wood, each 39 x 46.
Four of five panels; one is lost. The subjects are: A Miracle of St Zenobius; Totila before St Benedict; Death of Simon Magus; and Conversion of St Paul. The first and third of these scenes are similar in composition to panels from the predella of the altarpiece commissioned in 1461 by the Compagnia della Purificazione della Vergine (now in Berlin and the British Royal Collection). The New York panels are from a polyptych from the church (demolished in 1793) of San Pier Maggiore in Florence. The predella is mentioned by Vasari in his Life of Pesellino, to whom the panels were formerly ascribed. The rest of the altarpiece was not by Benozzo but by a fourteenth-century artist, Lippo di Bienvieni. Until 1915 the panels were preserved in the Casa Alessandri in Borgo degli Albizzi, near the demolished church.
Four Saints. Canvas (transferred from panel), 79 x 62.
The saints are Nicholas of Tolentino, Roch, Sebastian and Bernardino of Siena. Two tiny donors kneel in the bottom corners. In the background, angels hold spears over a town (Pisa?), symbolising the plague. The inscription on the parapet states that the picture was commissioned by Pietro di Battista d’Arrigo di Minore of Pisa in 1481 (Berenson read the date as 1471). First recorded only in 1900 in the Paris collection of Comte Robert de Pourtalès. Acquired by Kleinberger of New York in 1967, and bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum by the last surviving member of the firm, Harry G. Sperling, in 1975.
Birth of St John the Baptist. Embroidery, 32 x 50.
This little embroidery of silk and metal threads formed part of a priest's vestment (dalmatic). The design was attributed to Benozzo in volume XI of Van Marle's monumental Development of the Italian Schools of Painting (1929). It is the only embroidery design attributed to the artist. Donated to the Metropolitan Museum in 1964 by the New York lawyer and collector Irwin Untermyer.
Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada.
Madonna and Saints. Wood, 153 x 155.
SS. Gregory, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist and Julian stand at the sides, while SS. Dominic and Francis kneel in the foreground. The date of 1473 given in the inscription (‘in the time of the magnificent Giovanni Salviati’) is thought to have been altered from 1477 or 1478. The altarpiece probably came from Pisa, and may be that mentioned by Vasari as painted for the Compagnia dei Fiorentini (the confraternity for the Florentines living in Pisa). It was formerly (1874 to 1941) in the gallery at Cologne. Acquired in 1953.
Glory of St Thomas Aquinas. Wood, 230 x 102.
The saint is enthroned between Plato and Aristotle, with the Islamic philosopher Averroes prostrate at his feet. Above, at the sides, the four Evangelists write their gospels, St Paul holds his sword and book and Moses carries the tablets. The inscription (‘You have written well about me, Thomas’) gives the words allegedly spoken to Aquinas when the saint was contemplating the crucifix. At the very top, Christ appears in a glory of seraphim. The bottom part of the pictures shows Pope Sixtus IV in theological discussion with cardinals, monks and scholars. From the cathedral of Pisa, where Vasari, who describes it as Benozzo’s best work, saw it hanging behind the archbishop’s throne. The portrait of Sixtus IV must mean that the picture was painted after 1471, when the Pope was elected. The picture appears to be derived from an altarpiece of Saint Thomas in Glory in Santa Caterina at Pisa (attributed formerly to Francesco Traini and more recently to Lippo Memmi or his circle), which was painted over a hundred years earlier. It entered the Louvre as Napoleonic plunder in 1813. Much restored. The panel, now arched, was originally rectangular; enlargements at the sides are hidden by the frame.
Perugia. Galleria Nazionale.
Madonna and Saints. Wood, 122 x 212.
The Virgin is seated on the ground as the Madonna of Humility. The Christ Child, sitting on her knee, blesses the viewer. The gold ground behind the Virgin is tooled to resemble a cloth of honour. St Peter (with key) and John the Baptist (pointing to the Christ Child) kneel on the left. St Jerome (expounding from an open book) and St Paul (with sword) are on the right. There are three small figures of saints on each of the pilasters, and six more in the predella. Signed and dated 1456. The altarpiece was painted for the Hieronymite college of the Sapienza Nuova, which was founded in Perugia in the mid-1420s by Bishop Benedetto Guidalotti as a residence for foreign students at the University of Perugia. It was probably commissioned by Elisabetta Guidalotta (died 1461), Benedetto’s sister, who left half her dowry (630 florins) to the college and whose name saint (Elisabeth of Hungary) is represented. The Guidalotti coat-of-arms is emblazoned on the bases of the pilasters. The original college building was destroyed in 1540, when the Rocca Paolina was built, and the college was moved to the Servite convent. The picture was donated to the Accademia di Belle Arti in 1816.
Philadelphia. Museum of Art (J. G. Johnson Collection).
Purification of the Virgin. Wood, 24 x 36.
The subject is from Luke 2: 22-38. Joseph, following the Virgin Mary, carries the pair of turtle doves required for the Jewish purification rite. The old woman on the right, bearing a scroll, is the eighty-four year old prophetess Anna. As first recognised by Bernard Berenson in 1911, this small panel is from the centre of the predella of the altarpiece ordered in 1461 by the Compagnia della Purificazione della Vergine. The main panel of the altarpiece is in the National Gallery, London, and other predella panels are in Berlin, Milan, Washington and the British Royal Collection. Formerly in the collection of Don Jaime de Bourbon, Schloss Frohsdorf, Austria. Acquired by John G. Johnson (on Berenson's recommendation) in 1911.
Man of Sorrows with the Virgin and St John. Wood, 22/23 in dia.
This very damaged little tondo, severely abraded and with a diagonal crack running through the centre, has been attributed to Benozzo as an early work of the 1440s. It is similar in composition to one of Fra Angelico’s frescoes at San Marco (cell 27). Before restoration in the early 1970s, the panel was rectangular in shape, with added corners, and the symbols of the Passion in the background were overpainted. Acquired by Johnson at an unknown date from an unknown source.
Pisa. Museo Nazionale.
Madonna and Child and St Anne. Wood, 143 x 90.
This small altarpiece is probably from the Dominican monastery of Santa Marta (although its provenance has also been given as Sant’Anna or San Domenico). It has been dated around 1468-70 – early in Benozzo’s Pisan period. The painted frame is original. The appearance of the picture, previously very dirty and pitted, was transformed by cleaning in 1992.
Madonna enthroned with Four Saints. Wood, 153 x 133.
The saints are Benedict, Scholastica, Ursula and Giovanni Gualberto. This very damaged altarpiece is from the ex-convent of San Benedetto a Ripa d’Arno, where Benozzo painted frescoes of the Life of St Benedict according to Vasari. It is probably a late work of around 1485-90. Parts, including the figure of St Ursula and the two angels crowning the Virgin, may be by another hand (Benozzo’s son Francesco has been suggested).
Crucifixion and Saints. Detached fresco, 242 x 455.
The Magdalen clasps the foot of the cross; the Virgin and St John the Evangelist stand at the sides; and six Dominican saints kneel with Dominican nuns. This large fresco is from the convent of San Domenico at Pisa, where it was on a wall of the refectory. A badly damaged late work. It was probably painted around 1488, when San Domenico was placed under the administration of the Florentine convent of San Marco, and appears to have been inspired to some extent by Fra Angelico's great Crucifixion in the Chapter House at San Marco. The fresco may have been completed largely by assistants working from Benozzo's underdrawing (sinopia).
A detached fresco of St Dominic urging Silence is also from the San Domenico convent, where it was situated above a door.
Pisa. Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
Madonna and Saints. Wood, 100 x 120.
The Madonna is enthroned against a red brocade curtain between SS. Lawrence and Lazarus on the left and SS. Anthony Abbot and Bernardino of Siena on the right. The diminutive male and female donors kneeling by the base of the throne are identified by the inscription as Giampiero da Porto and Mona Michela della Spetie. The predella has a dead Christ between St Peter and the Virgin (left) and SS. John the Evangelist and Stephen. Dated 1470 in the inscription. From the church of San Lazzaro fuori le Mura and formerly owned by Pisa’s Opera Primaziale (the body responsible for the building works of the Cathedral and Camposanto). The frame is original, but the picture is much damaged and restored. Though in Benozzo’s style, it seems too weak in execution to be by his own hand and is usually now classed as a work of his studio or school.
Old Testament Scenes. Frescoes.
In January 1469 Benozzo was commissioned to cover the long north wall of the Camposanto with frescoes. This immense undertaking comprised twenty-four large narrative scenes from the Old Testament and (over the door of the Ammanti Chapel) an Adoration of the Magi with an Annunciation below. It took more than fifteen years to finish (although large areas were delegated to assistants). The earliest of the series is the Wine Harvest and the Drunkenness of Noah, which is signed and dated 1469 on the collar of the figure pointing with both hands. The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon was finished in May 1484. In 1478 the citizens of Pisa presented Benozzo with a tomb beneath his own fresco of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh ’s Dream. The frescoes, which had already suffered badly from damp, were severely damaged in July 1944, when an American incendiary bomb set the roof ablaze and molten lead ran down the walls. In the 1950s they were detached from the wall and glued onto canvas supports. Unfortunately, the glue used seems to have reacted badly with the atmosphere, causing much of the paint to flake off or dissolve. Much of the colour is now lost and the backgrounds have largely disappeared. A major new restoration started in the late 1990s with the aim of returning the entire cycle to its original location. The sinopie, discovered when the frescoes were detached, are displayed in the nearby Museo delle Sinopie. A famous series of large-scale etchings of the frescoes, made when they were still largely decipherable, was published in Carlo Lasinio’s Pitture a fresco del Camp Santo di Pisa (1828).
Pisa. Cassa di Risparmio di Pisa (Piazza Dante).
Virgin and St John. Detached fresco, 143 x 132.
The fragment, which may date from the 1480s, represents the Virgin and St John the Evangelist at the sides of the cross. Very little remains of the angels above. The fresco was discovered in 1972 in a niche in the church of San Benedetto a Ripa d’Arno in Pisa. The niche probably contained a statue originally (now lost). The church, on Via San Paolo, is closed, and the fresco has been moved to the old nunnery in Piazza Dante (now occupied by the Cassa di Risparmio).
Madonna enthroned with Saints and Angels (‘Maestà’). Sinopia.
Discovered under plaster in 1955. It is assumed that at the end of his life Benozzo was commissioned to paint a large Maestà for the Council Chamber of the Palazzo Comunale, but died after preparing the sinopia, which was subsequently covered over.
Rome. Vatican Pinacoteca.
‘Madonna of the Girdle’. Wood, 133 x 164.
An altarpiece complete in its original frame. The main panel depicts the Assumption of the Virgin. She hands St Thomas her girdle as she ascends to heaven surrounded by music-making angels. Her empty tomb is filled with flowers. On the pilasters of the frame are six full-length saints: Francis, Fortunatus, Anthony of Padua, Louis of Toulouse, Severus and Bernardino of Siena. In the predella are six scenes from the Life of the Virgin: Birth, Marriage, Annunciation, Nativity and Circumcision of Christ, and Death of the Virgin. The altarpiece is one of Benozzo’s earliest independent works, painted, probably in 1450, for the Franciscans of San Fortunato, near Montefalco. It was given by the Commune of Montefalco to Pope Pius IX in 1848, along with the relics of St Fortunatus, in exchange for an episcopal charter. The newly restored picture was exhibited recently (July 2015 to April 2016) at the San Francesco Museum in Montefalco.
Rome. Santa Maria in Aracoeli. North aisle, 3rd chapel.
Saint Anthony. Fresco, 130 x 102.
St Anthony holds a burning heart and a book; small figures of the donor Angelo di Antonio Paluzzo Albertoni and his wife Gentitesca dei Fabi kneel at his feet. This fresco is all that remains of a cycle of scenes from the Life of St Anthony that Benozzo painted for the Albertoni family chapel. It probably dates from about 1458, when Benozzo was in Rome working on decorations for the coronation of Pius II.
San Gimignano. Palazzo del Popolo. Museo Civico.
Madonna and Child and Two Saints. Wood, 137 x 138.
The Madonna is enthroned between the kneeling SS. Andrew and Prospero. In the background two angels hold baskets of flowers. In the predella is a Dead Christ between Saints. An inscription gives Benozzo’s name, the name of the patron (the priest Girolamo di Niccolò), and the date 1466. From the high altar of the church of Sant’Andrea (in a small outlaying parish 5 km from San Gimignano). The frame is original.
Madonna and Child and Four Saints. Wood, 173 x 176.
The Madonna is enthroned between the kneeling SS. Mary Magdalene and John the Baptist (left) and Martha and Augustine. Signed and dated 1466. From the convent of Santa Maria Maddalena at San Gimignano, which was suppressed in 1810.
Restoration of Memmi’s Maestà. Fresco.
Lippo Memmi’s monumental fresco was painted for the Council Chamber (now known as the Sala di Dante) in 1317. Following damage caused by the construction of two doorways in the wall on which it was painted, Benozzo was commissioned to restore it. As well as repairing the fresco along the bottom edge, he repainted the sky and the two heads on the right. As recorded in an inscription in the bottom right corner, the restoration was carried out in 1467.
San Gimignano. Collegiata. Entrance wall.
Martyrdom of St Sebastian. Fresco, 525 x 378.
The fresco, painted for the altar dedicated to St Fabian and St Sebastian, was commissioned on 25 February 1465. An inscription states that Benozzo finished the work ‘to the praise of the most glorious athlete St Sebastian’ on 18 January 1466 (two days before the saint’s feast day). St Anthony Abbot, St Jerome and St Bernardino are depicted on the left pier of the chapel, and the Assumption of the Virgin and St Augustine and St Bernard on the right pier. Benozzo was paid ten florins for the fresco, an additional five florins for painting the piers and a further ten soldi for two coat-of-arms. Much of the execution was probably by an assistant (Giovanni di Mugello?). The fresco was damaged ('badly pock-marked by shrapnel' according to a British War Office report) in 1944. Much repainted, particularly the landscape.
San Gimignano. Sant’Agostino.
Choir. Life of St Augustine. Frescoes.
The cycle of seventeen scenes runs in three courses: it begins in the lowest left-hand panel with the little Augustine being taken to school in Tagaste by his parents, and ends in the lunette of the right wall with his death. In the scene of the saint leaving Rome for Milan, two angels hold a scroll that states that the frescoes were painted in 1465 at the expense of Doctor Parisinus. Doctor Parisinus, whose real name was Domenico Strambi, was a learned Augustinian friar, who had lectured in philosophy at Oxford and Paris, and who was responsible for reforming the monastery in his native town. He probably chose the subjects in the frescoes, which are drawn partly from the Confessions. He may be portrayed as the monk on the right of the Baptism, holding the clothes of the neophyte. The figure standing to the right in the scene of St Augustine’s departure from Rome is probably a self-portrait, and the three bystanders on the other side may be members of the Commune of San Gimignano. The four sections of the vault show the Evangelists. Benozzo’s assistants included Giusto d’Andrea, Giovanno di Mugello and probably Pier Francesco Fiorentino (a painter-priest, whose altarpiece in Sant’Agostino is signed and dated 1494).
The choir roof was hit in 1944, when the town was shelled by the retreating Germans, but the frescoes were largely unhurt. Their condition is uneven. The scenes on the right side of the left wall have suffered large losses, but those on the right wall are almost complete. The scenes round the window on the end wall have been damaged by damp (the three along the bottom have been detached and are much repainted). The cycle was restored in 1990.
Second altar left. Saint Sebastian. Fresco, 527 x 248.
The fresco, painted like an altarpiece within a fictive marble frame, was commissioned by the Compagnia di San Sebastiano and evokes the saint’s protection against the plague. An inscription on the painted marble pavement gives the date 28 July 1464. Represented unusually as clothed, instead of naked, and pierced with arrows, he shelters the people of San Gimignano under his cloak. Above the clouds, the angry God the Father and the Angels of Wrath hurl down arrows, Christ displays his wounds and the Virgin bares her breast. The Augustinian monk on the left may be Domenico Strambi. The six saints in the predella (identified by inscriptions) are Julian, Anthony, John the Baptist, Dominic, Justus and Agatha. Benozzo must have interrupted his work on the St Augustine cycle to paint the fresco, which was completed in just sixteen giornate (days of work). Restored in 1990.
San Gimignano. Santa Maria Assunta (formerly Monteoliveto Minore).
Crucifixion. Fresco, 350 x 220.
The fresco simulates an arched opening in the wall, setting the scene in the Tuscan countryside with the towers of San Gimignano in the distance. The Virgin and St John stand at the sides of the cross, and the kneeling St Jerome beats his breast at its foot. The fresco, dated 1466 and mentioned by Vasari, was painted in the cloister of the Olivetan Benedictine convent in the small suburb of Barbiano. It is damaged, and the execution is usually ascribed largely to an assistant.
Sermoneta. Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta.
Virgin in Glory. Canvas (transferred from panel), 208 x 93.
The Madonna, framed by a hierarchy of angels and crowned with a papal tiara, is shown as a protector against the plague, holding a model of the town in her lap. An early work. According to an eighteenth-century source, it was donated to Sermoneta in 1456 by the Roman Senate to commemorate the ending of the plague. The panel was badly damaged by a vertical crack running through the centre, and the picture was transferred to canvas in 1949 and painstakingly restored in 1960-75.
Mystical Marriage of St Catherine. Wood, 90 x 50.
Catherine of Alexandria kneels on the left to receive the ring; St Lucy kneels on the right; and SS. Bartholomew and Francis stand behind them. Two angels hold up a gold-patterned cloth of honour; God the Father in the pinnacle. From the chapel of the Rustici family in the Franciscan monastery of Santa Maria dell’Oro, near Terni, which was suppressed in 1860. Signed and dated 1466, and presumably executed in San Gimignano. It is said to have been the centre of a triptych, but the side panels have not been identified. The frame is original.
Vienna. Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Madonna and Child with Saints and a Donor. Wood, 34 x 55.
The Madonna adores the Child lying across her knees; SS. Francis, who recommends a tiny praying friar, and Bernardino kneel at her sides; and two angels hold up a magnificent curtain behind her. The setting is a flowery clearing in a wood, apparently at night (though the green pigments may have darkened). An early work. The donor could be Fra Jacopo di Montefalco, who commissioned Benozzo’s frescoes of 1452 in San Francesco.
Volterra. Duomo. Cappella del Nome di Gesù.
Journey of the Magi. Fresco.
Vasari states that Benozzo was active at Volterra, but this is the only example of his work that survives there. The fresco is in a niche (which originally held a terracotta Adoration of the Magi but now holds a sculpted Nativity) on the west wall of the large oratory to the left of the entrance. It largely repeats the procession in the background of Benozzo's fresco on the west wall of the Medici Chapel. The date of the Volterra fresco is unknown; it is often considered a late work (about 1480?), but a date in the 1460s has also been suggested.
Feast of Herod. Wood, 24 x 35.
Three scenes are combined: Salome dances at Herod’s birthday feast; the Baptist is beheaded (under the archway of the tall, narrow room on the left); and Salome presents his head to her mother Herodias (in another small room, centre background, off the banqueting hall). From the predella of the altarpiece ordered by the Compagnia della Purificazione della Vergine in 1461. Other panels from the predella are in Berlin, Milan, Philadelphia and the British Royal Collection, while the main panel of the altarpiece is in the National Gallery, London. The Washington panel came to light only in the 1940s. It was briefly in the collection of Conte Vittorio Cini, who probably bought it at Modena. When Cini was arrested by the Germans in 1943 and interned in Dachau concentration camp, the picture was sold to help raise money to bribe officials to obtain his release. Acquired by Kress (from Wildenstein & Co.) in 1949.
Saint Ursula. Wood, 45 x 29.
The legendary British martyr princess is portrayed with her usual red-cross banner. The small kneeling nun, dressed in the light brown habit and black veil of the Franciscan order, is identified by an inscription as 'Suora Ginevera'. One theory is that she belonged to the Franciscan Observants of Florence, whose convent was next to the church of Sant’Orsola. Another theory is that the picture came from Montefalco, where Benozzo worked for the Franciscans in 1450-52. While usually considered an early picture, Acidini Luchinat (1994), noting a similarity with the figure of St Ursula in an altarpiece at Pisa, thinks it is a late work executed by an assistant. Formerly in the Grand Ducal collection of Saxe-Meiningen, Germany. Sold in the 1920s, and bought by Kress from Duveen in 1937.
Raising of Lazarus. Canvas, 66 x 80.
The subject is from John's Gospel (11: 1-44). At the request of the sisters Mary and Martha (shown kneeling in the left foreground), Christ visited the tomb of their brother Lazarus and raised him from the dead. The picture, thinly painted in oil on very fine fabric, is a damaged very late work (mid-1490s). It is just possibly one of two canvases, said to represent the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, bought from Benozzo’s sons on 3 October 1497, the day before his death, by the Bishop of Pistoia, Niccolò Pandolfini. The Crucifixion (actually a Deposition) is in the Horne Museum, Florence. By 1859 the Raising of Lazarus was in the Florentine collection of Cav. Gualtiero Kennedy Laurie; it was purchased in 1897 by Peter A. B. Widener, and bequeathed to the National Gallery in 1942. The painting has sometimes been called unfinished, but the subdued colouring is probably to be explained by the abrasion of the paint surface and discoloration of the varnish. Restored in the early 2000s.