Benozzo di Lese di Sandro, best known as Benozzo Gozzoli, was born in Florence probably between 1420 and 1421, member of a family belonging to the textile industry: his grandfather was wool doffer and his father was tailor.
Breaking with his family tradition, the young Benozzo decided to devote himself to painting: we don’t know which was the first workshop in which he was educated, but it is certified that between 1444 and 1447 Benozzo was employed as the assistant of Lorenzo Ghiberti. The panels of the “Gate of Paradise” of the Florence Baptistery known as the absolute masterpiece of Ghiberti were to influence the entire stylistic work of Benozzo Gozzoli.
His true professional growth is mostly due to Beato Angelico, the great Dominican painter, protagonist of the Early Renaissance in Florence at the beginning of the 15th century.
Between 1447 and 1449 Benozzo became a coworker of Beato Angelico during his major projects in Vatican and in Orvieto.
In 1447 he left Florence and went to Rome where he received prestigious commissions and was engaged by Pope Eugene IV and Pope Nicholas V.
Inspired by the international environment of the Italian capital city, the artist was also influenced by the classical ruins of Rome and by Beato Angelico, with whom he collaborated for various projects, among which the decoration of the Cathedral of Orvieto – summer of 1447 – and the execution of four frescoes cycles in the Vatican Palaces and in the St. Peter Basilica in Rome. Of the latter, only the ones of the “Cappella Niccolina” are still preserved, with Scenes from the Lives of Saint Stephen and Saint Lawrence.
Later in 1449 Benozzo finished the frescoes in the Cathedral of Orvieto, first stage of his stay in Umbria and he ended his artistic collaboration with Angelico finally reaching a personal way of artistic expression.
From 1450 He was engaged by the Franciscans in Montefalco to paint St. Fortunate church. Later, Fra’ Jacopo from Montefalco – theologian and preacher - commissioned frescoes in the church of St. Francis convent – today known as museum church - illustrating the identification between St. Francis and Jesus Christ.
Autograph letter signed by Benozzo Gozzoli (1452)
Thanks to the project aimed at promoting the territory known as “ Montefalco nel cuore”, it was possible to bring back in the Church Museum of Montefalco, from where it was sent in 1452, an autograph letter signed by Benozzo Gozzoli. The letter, dated June 27th 1452 sent by Benozzo da Montefalco to Michele di Felice Brancacci in which he attested he was unable to leave Montefalco because he had to complete the frescoes cycle in the St. Francis Church, returned to the place of origin 561 years later.
The work to which the artist refers in the letter was part of the cycle of the paintings illustrating the most important events of the life of St. Francis, ordered by an erudite commissioner, the theologian and preacher Fra’ Jacopo da Montefalco of the Order of the Friars Minor.
His renouncement to a prestigious commission in Florence ordered by one of the most important families of his time, to complete the work already begun in Montefalco, represents a declaration of love by the artist for this territory.
The Autograph letter
Savio e discreto giovane 1452
Michele di Felice Branch- In Montefalco adì 27
acci da Firenze in Todi proprio. di giugno
R(egistrata) adì detto.
Al nome de Dio, ad XXV de giugno 1452.
Chiarissimo mio, da po’ infinite recomandationi etc. Ad 24 de detto ò ricevuto una vostra lettera. Et sì che volevate sapere s’io ero a Monte Falco per istança perché a(ve)vate di bisogno d’esser con mecho o che veramente venissi costà, o che voi venissi qua. Io ò de necessità d’andare a Viterbo e avevo determinato di far la via di chostà. Ora m’è ochorso un poco de chaso e non mi posso partire per de qui; a dì, se la facenda che voi avete importa, o cche sia ch’io posso fare in vostro servigio, mi farete grandissimo piacere a venirvi a star due dì chom esso mecho. Se vi fusse difficile, io serrò chostà al tempo detto de sopra.
Altro non m’ochorre, se non che mi rachomandate a Ricco vostro.
Benozzo d’Alese depintore
in Montefalco, in San Francescho