A glittering cavalcade of men and animals winds through a rocky landscape under an azure sky. The men are dressed in all the luxury of Italian fifteenth-century fashions, in brilliant colors, damask, gold brocade. They ride horses and camels with various exotic creatures to amuse them - dogs, cheetahs, peacocks and monkeys. In the background are forests and picturesque towered towns.
This is the procession of the Magi on their way to worship the newborn Christ, painted in the chapel of the Palazzo Medici, Florence, in 1459. The artist was Benozzo Gozzoli, formerly an assistant of Fra Angelico. For their sheer beauty, their precision, and their almost fairy-tale-like quality, these frescoes have always been among the most popular of all Western paintings. The Medici family chapel is a jewel-like room and, despite changes that have been made to it over the years, it houses the best preserved of Renaissance fresco cycles.
This magnificent volume reproduces the frescoes in all their glory, taking us through the chapel wall by wall - showing the entire surface and then series of details reproduced in actual size. It is in the details, with their vivid brushwork, that the magic of these frescoes resides: costumes, jewels, weapons, trees, distant castles, flowers, birds of all kinds, animals, streams, rocks - and faces, many of them identifiable portraits of Gozzoli's Florentine contemporaries, notably the powerful Medici themselves. These remarkable photographs were taken after the chapel's recent cleaning: not only do the colors glow with a new brilliance, but features have been revealed that could not have been seen before.
The photographs are complemented by lucid texts which examine the chapel as a whole, its art-historical context, the individual murals and the problems and procedures involved in the conservation of the paintings.