GOZZOLI, Benozzo
(b. ca. 1420, Firenze, d. 1497, Pistoia)

Procession of the Oldest King (west wall)

Chapel, Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence

The oldest king is closest to the Christ Child on the altarpiece and is followed by the largest procession of pilgrims. His vanguard is made to appear visually longer due to the about-turn that the procession makes. He is wisely and calmly gazing towards the young king on the opposite wall. His long gray full beard shows him to be from the Middle East, for the Florentines of the 15th century, where a smoothly shaved face was the predominant fashion, considered this to be the decisive characteristic of the Orient.

The figure of the old king has been considered to be a portrait of the patriarch of Constantinople. The identification is based on the context in which the paintings were produced: the Council of Ferrara-Florence in 1439. The council, which had at first met in Ferrara, was moved to Florence as Ferrara was not able to provide further financial support or security. It was possible to move the council due to financing provided by the Medicis, in particular Cosimo. Since 1438 he had been the 'Gonfaloniere della Giustizia' (Standard-bearer of Justice), the head of the eight priors who together formed the constitutional body. Because of this position, Cosimo was able to prepare for the council and the reception of the dignitaries. One of the results was a decisive financial success, a year of high profits for the Medici bank. In this context, therefore, painting the chapel was also meant to serve as a reminder of the brilliant part Cosimo had played in the affair. The council had not successfully carried out its aims, in the long term the council was to be unsuccessful, however, this had not yet been evident during the 1440s and 1450s. At that time the discussion was continued in Rome and not until 1484, more than 50 years after the frescoes were completed, did the Greek Orthodox Church finally reject the agreement reached in Florence.