Lorenzo the Magnificent, Florence, Italy

We had to walk quite a while to get to the Medici Chapel. Fortunately, the rain had stopped. The chapel was located on the first floor of the Medici Palace, on the via Larga. It was small and so alive in its colours that you were under the impression that, on its walls, a fairytale was unfolding. 

A procession of lords and knights led to a fantastic city, and behind them was a beautifully painted landscape of hills, lakes, castles and all the animal kingdom. It was The Procession of the Magi by Benozzo Gozzoli.  The mural looked like a huge miniature in that it was so precise in its details and with colours made of priceless materials like lapis lazuli and gold. I could imagine how much the gold would shine in the darkness when the chapel was lit only by candles, even though I did find it strange that is was so richly decorated.

The Chapel of the Magi, Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence

The Chapel of the Magi, Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence

“Gold and lapis in a fresco?” I asked.

We were fortunate enough to be alone in this little jewel of a chapel, and could speak without bothering anyone.

“It is a combination of fresco and painting on a dry wall,” Robbie explained to me, “a technique that allowed the painter to use these materials and pay great attention to the details. But, as much as the Medici wanted to impress, they were nouveaux riches in the eyes of the aristocracy. Not to mention that their palace was considered a provocation.”

“Yes, but it became the prototype for all the Renaissance palaces in Florence,” I replied.

Three generations of the dynasty were depicted in the mural:  Cosimo; his son, Piero; and his grandson, Lorenzo (all contributed to the cultural superiority of Florence during the Quattrocento, 1400-1492). It was strange.  I kept thinking how fate or luck had it that some people come along at just the right time. The Medicis arrived at the time that Europe was coming out of the Middle Ages and was undergoing a transformation. Benozzo Gozzoli created his beautiful frescoes in the chapel on the order of Cosimo…

An excerpt from the book A Year in Tuscany

Barbara Athanassiadis