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Florentine, c. 1421 - 1497
Benozzo di Lese
Benozzo di Lese, whose family came from Sant'Ilario a Colombaia, a village on the outskirts of Florence, was probably born in 1421. Sources give no indication about the workshop in which Benozzo received his training; his early style shows strong links with Fra Angelico, and some scholars think he assisted with the frescoes in the convent of San Marco (1438-1443). Nonetheless he appears already in 1439 to have been a painter in his own right, and in 1445 he stipulated a contract with Lorenzo and Vittorio Ghiberti to collaborate on the Door of Paradise for the duration of three years. In 1447 he is documented in Rome as an assistant of Fra Angelico in his frescoes executed at the papal court, and in 1448 as an associate ("consocio") of the Dominican painter in the decoration of the Saint Brixius chapel in the Orvieto cathedral.
Gozzoli was active in Umbria in the 1440s; there his art was enriched by new ideas suggested by the paintings of Domenico Veneziano and such local artists as Boccati and Bonfigli. From 1450 to 1452 he worked in Montefalco in the churches of San Fortunato and San Francesco; in 1453 he signed and dated the stories from the life of Santa Rosa in the eponymous church in Viterbo, now lost, and in 1456 he dated the altarpiece for the Sapienza Nuova in Perugia, now in the Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria. After a stay in Rome in 1458, Gozzoli returned to Florence, where in 1459 he was awarded the prestigious commission to paint an elaborate fresco cycle representing the procession of the Magi in the chapel of the Palazzo Medici in Via Larga. The spectacular parade of the protagonists of contemporary Florentine history, acutely portrayed as characters in this splendid entourage, is the painter's masterpiece.
On 23 October 1461 Benozzo contracted with the Compagnia della Purificazione di Maria e San Zanobi, near the convent of San Marco, to paint an altarpiece now in the National Gallery in London (the five elements of the predella are scattered among various collections, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington). From 1464 to 1467 the artist lived in San Gimignano, where he frescoed scenes from the life of Saint Augustine in the main chapel of the church dedicated to the saint (1464-1465) and painted other works in the surrounding area. In 1467 he began a long stay in Pisa, where he was summoned to fresco stories from the Bible on the north wall of the Camposanto. This vast cycle (1469-1484) testifies to Gozzoli's skill in narration, enlivened by numerous observations of reality and a keen interest in the effects of light, within a highly complex and rigorous perspective framework. His work in the Camposanto was accompanied by prolific activity in the Pisa area until the political situation following Piero de' Medici's expulsion from Florence forced Benozzo (a Florentine) to return to his native city in 1495.
Benozzo was invited to Pistoia, the home of his son Francesco (a painter himself, as were Gozzoli's other sons, Gerolamo and Alesso), to execute various commissions including a Maestà for the Palazzo Comunale (left unfinished). He died there in 1497, probably from the plague. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]