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Art in Umbria

In the footsteps of Benozzo Gozzoli

In the footsteps of Benozzo Gozzoli

Benozzo Gozzoli is one of the great protagonists of the Italian Renaissance painting.


He was born in Florence around 1420 and was a pupil of Lorenzo Ghiberti as well as Beato Angelico with whom he cooperated to create different artworks in the Vatican. Later he moved to Umbria, where, together with his master, he started to fresco two vaults in the Saint Brizio's Chapel inside the Orvieto's Cathedral. About half a century later the chapel was completed by the superb hand of Luca Signorelli.


In recent years the painting cycle discovered in the crypts of the Città della Pieve’s Cathedral has also been attributed to Benozzo Gozzoli; it seems that the artist used here a cardboard (preparatory drawing) already adopted in Orvieto and for that reason this cycle is placed chronologically around 1449.

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In 1450 he was called to Montefalco by Franciscan friars, for whom he frescoed the Monastery of Saint Fortunato. Few years later, Brother Jacopo from Montefalco, theologian and preacher, offered him to carry out the frescoes of St. Francis’ Church around the theme of identification between St. Francis and Jesus Christ. The paintings (today church-museum) were carried out in 1452 and completely envelop the central apse. The right and left jambs of the apse host two cartouches bearing the name of the artist and client with this praise "Qualis sit pictor prefectus inspice tector". The central apse hosts the famous cycle of Stories from St. Francis’ Life, frescoes that represented the first extraordinary evidence that Benozzo Gozzoli reached the status of independent artist.

In order to allow his peers to better understand the scenes, Benozzo used in his paintings some references that were modern at that time, such as architectures and landscapes typical of his epoch. The stories develop along twelve squares on the walls divided by six pillars that continue along the vault’s ribs. The episodes from St. Francis’ life are 19 and they don’t respect intentionally the chronological order of events since Brother Bonaventura (the biographer of St. Francis) authorized this kind of narrative to encourage a thematic approach to the Saint’s life. The episodes end, however, with St. Francis in heaven together with five saints belonging to the Order in Glory among angels.

The “Madonna della Cintola”, preserved in the Vatican Museums, was painted in Montefalco.

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Another important artwork of Benozzo Gozzoli is in Narni and it’s the “Annunciation”. In this wooden altarpiece it’s possible to admire the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary surrounded with light: in the whole painting you recognize the unmistakeable hand of Benozzo Gozzoli who infuses the divine presence through a delicate game of lights and colours. The artwork is signed on the curtains behind the Virgin Mary and can be dated back to the half of 15th century; it was probably commissioned by Dominican friars, as it can be deducted by some figurative details carrying a symbolic function: the white and black dogs on the carpet’s band refer, for example, to the Order of Preaching Friars. The painting, coming from the Dominican Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, is preserved in the Eroli Museum in Narni.

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