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

Fall of Simon Magus

Tempera on panel, 24 x 35,5 cm
Royal Collection, Hampton Court

The altarpiece, to which this panel was once attached as part of the predella was painted for the Compagnia di Santa Maria della Purificazione e di San Zanobi, known as the Compagnia di San Marco, which was affiliated to San Marco in Florence. The contract for the altarpiece is immensely detailed. It was signed by Gozzoli on 23 October 1461 and adumbrates not just the various parts of the altarpiece, but also the artist's obligations as regards the frame, the gilding, and the quality of the pigments to be used.

The altarpiece was dismembered on the suppression of the confraternity in 1802 and its various elements dispersed. (The predella may have already been detached by this time.) The panel with the Madonna and Child among Saints is now in the National Gallery, London; the scenes from the predella are in the Staatliche Museen in Berlin (St Zanobius Raising a Child from the Dead), the National Gallery of Art in Washington (The Dance of Salome), The Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan (St Dominic Raising a Child from the Dead), the Museum of Art, Philadelphia (Purification of the Virgin) and Hampton Court (Fall of Simon Magus), while the right-hand pillar with three saints is in the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence.

The Fall of Simon Magus is a subject taken from The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine and it involves a contest between a sorcerer at the court of Emperor Nero and Saint Peter. Nero is seen enthroned on the left while Saint peter and Saint Paul are on the right. Simon Magus, endeavouring to prove his magical powers, attempts to launch himself from a wooden tower towards heaven, but even though supported by demons his experiment fails and he falls to the ground.