THE CHRISTMAS CANVAS: ‘The Procession of the Magi’ by Benozzo Gozzoli (1459 – 1460)

 Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo, Fra Angelico, Gozzoli and Botticelli: all these master artists had a single thing in common. They were linked to one great powerful family: the MEDICIS. The Medicis were the Masters of Florence and the Godfathers of the Renaissance. Theirs is a story of political schemes, power hungry individuals, passion, betrayal, murder and art. They didn’t just collect art works; they patronised and protected it, unleashing its true nature that changed the world.

Through today’s painting we will explore how the Medicis made their way into the Christmas story through the grandeur of a single canvas: The Procession of the Magi by Benozzo Gozzoli (1459).

Renaissance Florence cherished its beloved processions. The dazzling lavishness and prodigious publicity was considered a perfect get-away from the everyday hassles of life. These processions were organized by guilds. One such guild was the ‘Compagnia de’Magi’ (The Company of Magi) who organized a spectacular yearly march through the streets of Florence on the feast of the Epiphany.

Now the Medici’s were the members of the Compagnia de’ Magi. Gozzoli therefore took inspiration from this parade inorder to conceive a decorative scheme for the Medici private Chapel. Thus begins the grand procession as Gozzoli lets the magnificent Medicis wind their way through the three walls of the Chapel. It is a dramatic display, not a spiritual pilgrimage!

The Wise men, as seen in the painting, are accompanied by a huge entourage of men, women, children and animals. They are brilliantly dressed with not a speck of desert dirt on them. They are guided not by a star but by their august ambition. They seem to be journeying not to a poor Palestinian village but to a hailing city. Let’s join the procession as we minutely digest the details and experience the grandeur.

We begin by paying our respect to the members of the Medici family. They ride in the foreground at our left. This group is led by the young Lorenzo il Magnificio on a white horse. He is backed by his father Piero de Medici and his grandfather Cosimo de Medici (the family founder). Accompanying them are the Lords of Rimini and Milan, guests of the Medici in Florence. Tagging along are also the illustrious Florentines, humanists, members of the art guilds and the painter himself! Gozzoli can be recognized by the scroll on his red hat that reads ‘Opus Benotti’.

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