The Procession of the Magi is housed in a chapel of the private Medici residence in Florence. Built by Michelozzo between 1446 and 1449, the room has double walls with two separate secret escape routes. The sacristy on the left gave access to a small staircase leading downwards on the outside of the palazzo. The right hand sacristy led to another staircase giving access to the attic of the antechamber. The chapel opened onto a corridor leading to the chamber of Lorenzo the magnificent and his study. The double walls explain the good state of preservation of the frescos, protecting them from the damp air. Originally, it was a relatively dark space with two small oculi admitting only a fraction of light. In the torch and candlelight illuminated room, the shining gold layers of the paintings must have given a powerful effect.
Piero de Medici entrusted the commission of the paintings to Benozzo Gozzoli, 1421-1497 during his stay in Florence. The frescos themselves reflect the magnificence of the Medici at the time, and the festival given for the people of Florence each year. While the Medici held no titles, they were bankers for the papacy, and supporters of the finest art of the Renaissance period. The expensive and vibrant colors embellished with gold leaf; so much gold being required the painter requested an advance of funds in order to obtain the necessary amount. The religious theme is a pretext to depict the procession of important people who arrived in Florence for the occasion of the Council of Florence (1438-1439). This meeting brought reconciliation between the Catholic and the Byzantine churches. The sea of faces retain every nuance of individuality after 500 years, alas, many of their names lost through the ages.
Over a rich landscape, Gozzoli portrayed members of the Medici family riding in the foreground of the fresco, a young Lorenzo the Magnificent leads the procession on a white horse followed by his father Piero the Gouty, the family founder, Cosimo, and his son Carlo de Medici.
1. Cosimo di Medici (1389-1464) was the first of the Medici political dynasty of Florence, known as Cosimo the elder. His power over Florence was exerted while holding no public office, but was turned against him by the anit-Medici faction led by Palla Strozzi and Rinaldo degli Albizzi. In 1433 he was jailed then exiled, accused of failure in the conquest of Lucca. He went to Pradua and then to Florence, taking his bank along with him. Prompted by his influence and money, others followed him until the flight of capital from Florence was so great that his detractors were forced to rescind the ban of exile the following year. Returning to Florence, Cosimo instigated a series of constitutional changes to secure his power through influence. At his death, the ruling council awarded him the title Pater Patriae “Father of the County”, an honor once awarded to Cicero, having it carved upon his tomb in the Church of San Lorenzo.
2. Piero di Cosimo de Medici (1416-1469),the de facto ruler of Florence from 1464 to 1469, father of Lorenzo the Magnificent and Giuliano de Medici. Due to his perpetual poor health, he is referenced as Piero the Gouty. His brother Giovanni was executor of the family banking business, but predeceased his father. Upon taking over the family Medici bank, Piero had a financial overview prepared, the results leading him to call up a number of long-standing loans, many to various Medici supporters, which his father had let stand. This immediately drove a good number of the merchants involved into bankruptcy, thus adding to the ranks of those who stood in opposition to the Medici. He withstood an attempted coup by Luca Pitti, Niccolo Soderini, Diotisalvi Neroni, Angelo Acciaiuoli, his cousin Pierfrancesco de Medici and the d’Este brothers, in 1466.
Piero collected rare books adding to the Medici collection. Although not as brilliant a banker as his father, he was able to keep business running smoothly during his tenure. He died in 1469 due to gout and lung disease, and is buried in the Church of San Lorenzo next to his brother Giovanni.
3. Carlo de Medici (1430-1492), is the illegitimate son of Cosimo de Medici and a Circassian slave named Magdelene. Forced into a life of religious service by his father, he became Canon of the Cathedral of Florence in 1450. The historical record retains nothing about the life of Carlo except church office appointments, but the Medici Archive states seventy years after his death monthly accounts of the Depositeria Generale for June of 1562 include expenses for marble in the Palazzo Pitti for the tomb of Carlo de Medici in Prato Cathedral.
~This is the first installment of three~