The Magi Chapel in Palazzo Medici Riccardi
The fascinating little gem of the Magi Chapel is one of the most delightful settings of Florence’s Renaissance, which really shouldn't be missed.
This unique room is inside the giant structure of Michelozzo’s Palazzo Medici Riccardi. Built for Cosimo de’Medici (later to become known as “the Elder”) in 1445, as a private chapel in his new palazzo, but he never saw it finished. The walls of the Chapel are decorated by Benozzo Gozzoli, depicting the story of the Cavalcade of the Magi, the journey of the Three Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem and was completed between 1459 and 1461. Various members of the Medici family, their collaborators, allies and political supporters and other important people of the Council of Florence were all given key roles in the various scenes.
Set in the Florentine countryside, the fresco cycle is full of symobolic content; from the hunting scenes, the wild exotic animals and the many symbols, colours and decorations - Gozzoli was praised for combining history, art and public celebration in such a lavishly elegant style.
It's an absolutely breath taking room, so once you've taken it all in - here's a few particular characters to look out for. The procession begins on your left just as you enter - on the west wall. In the left corner you'll see the elderly king with his long beard, riding a mottled mule. Like Cosimo de'Medici, who you'll see in a few moments, he is shown as a peacemaker riding a donkey. it has been suggested that this could either be Joseph the Patriarch of Constantinople, who died in Florence, or Sigismund of Luxembourg who was a Holy Roman Emperor. Riding before him in blue is perhaps an idealized Giuliano de'Medici and his cheetah.
Following him on the back wall is the middle aged Magus/Wise Man with his beautifully embroidered green costume and lavish head wear - this man is said to bear strong resemblance to the Eastern Emperor John VIII Palaeologus. He's being followed by three figures who are believed to be Piero de'Medici's daughters Nannina, Bianca and Maria.
And finishing with the most impressive east wall. Here we have a whole load of characters from the day. The Magi Caspar, in his silvery white tunic. It has been suggested that this is an idealised version of Lorenzo de’Medici, despite the fact that his younger self also appears in the main Medici family group.
Leading the procession immediately behind Lorenzo is Cosimo the Elder, riding a mule wearing a red beret and looking slightly towards us. On his left on the white horse is Piero the Gouty (Cosimo’s eldest son) wearing a dark brocade with lavish golden embroidary. The man on foot leading Piero has been named as either Cosimo’s son Giovanni, or his illegitimate son Carlo (born to a Circassian slave). It has also been suggested that Carlo is the figure between Cosimo and Piero, wearing a white head-band, but this has also been named as Giovanni, you can make your own assumption!
On Cosimo the Elder’s right, on the white horse we are able to see Galeazzo Maria Sforza who was an important ally of Cosimo de’ medici, gained the Duchy of Milan, and was famous tyrant and a popular condottiero, known for being cruel and lustful. On the brown horse next to him we see Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, otherwise known as the Wolf of Rimini, who was also a condottiero and a well known nobleman, famed for his daring mitlary decisions.
Two rows above, look for the man wearing a red beret with the words Opus Benotti. This is a self portrait of the artist himself, which also appears again on the west wall wearing a blue and white beret. Just below him, Lorenzo Medici with his distinguished features is also recognisable, and a little to the right look for the young looking man with a downward gaze - this was a typical manor of Giulaiano, but is also suggested he is the young boy on Lorenzo’s left, looking directly at us. And last, just above the self portrait of Gozzoli, look for the aged man, who is believed to be Pope Pius II.
I hope you agree that this truly in a special place and one I believe should be on everyones list when they visit Florence. The more time you spend in front of it, the more it comes to life, and the more you really see!
I particular like this little scene on the west wall, I love the detail of the animals but I also like to think that the chap in a green tunic and red tights has got the leopards lead caught up round his ankles - he does look a bit fed up with the poor cat!
If you're in the area and looking for a bite to eat, I recommend heading to Arà: è Sicilia, on via degli Alfani for very tasty arancini - go for the sardine, fennel and pine nut one, if not the savoury pistachio arancini is a close second choice for me. For more of a sit down meal I always enjoy meals at Eataly on via de’Martelli, despite it being quite a large company now with outposts all over the world; the ever changing menu always has great options and good quality ingredients.
Inbetween lunch and dinner? How about a glass of wine at Casa del Vino on via dell’Ariento which is always packed with tourists and locals. They also do fantastic panini so it's also a great place for lunch! Their wine by-the-glass selection is very interesting and fairly priced.
Heard in London