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

The Vintage and Drunkenness of Noah

Camposanto, Pisa

Gozzoli spent the last years of his life in Pisa, where he was commissioned in 1469 to carry out a major cycle of frescoes for the Camposanto comprising 26 pictures from the Old Testament, and on which he was to work for 16 years. The order in which they were created can be reconstructed from the account books where the payments were recorded until 1485 when the final bill for the work was produced. The frescoes are the following: Vintage and Drunkenness of Noah, Building of the Tower of Babel; Adoration of the Magi; Abraham and the Priests of Baal; Departure of Abraham and Lot; Victory of Abraham; Abraham and Hagar; Burning of Sodom; Sacrifice of Isaac; Wedding of Isaac and Rebecca; Birth of Esau and Jacob; Wedding of Jacob; Meeting of Jacob and Esau; Story of Joseph (2 frescoes); Moses' Youth; Moses and the Tables of the Law; Dance around the Golden Calf; Punishment of Korah; Aaron's Rod; The Serpent of Bronze; Battle of the Jordan; Death of Aaron and Moses; The Fall of Jericho and David and Goliath; Meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

In 1944 a bombing raid, followed by a disastrous fire, destroyed or damaged the greater part of the frescoes. In spite of the restoration carried out after the war, they have remained disfigured and, as they are kept in storage, not on view. Nor can the sight of the sinopie in Pisa's Museo delle Sinopie, made possible by their detachment, do justice to what was the masterpiece, or at least the most demanding work, of Benozzo's whole career.

By describing it as an opera terribilissima, Vasari honoured Benozzo's work with the adjective that he chiefly, though not exclusively, used in his Lives for the insuperable art of Michelangelo. And even though he was referring to the scale and importance of the undertaking rather than to the dazzling grandeur of the results, the term is still an expression of the admiration that the not very indulgent biographer, and to an even greater extent Benozzo's contemporaries, had for his most demanding work.