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

Scenes from the Life of St Francis (Scene 7, south wall)

Fresco, 270 x 220 cm
Apsidal chapel, San Francesco, Montefalco

The Preaching to the Birds and Blessing Montefalco took place in Umbria. The precise topographical description of the places is noticeable. In the middle distance a view of the Umbrian town of Bevagna can be seen, near to which the preaching to the birds is supposed to have taken place. The mighty Monte Subasio, with a little church half way up, and a view of the town of Assisi, form the background. In the background on the left, at the foot of the table mountain, lies Assisi with the fortress and magnificent monastery church of San Francesco that was not built until after St Francis' death. The topography of the cities is also in accordance with reality: Assisi lies to the north west of Montefalco.

The preaching Francis is pointing upwards to indicate that he is speaking about God. The 13 different kinds of birds, including a hoopoe, a swan, a thrush, a magpie, a pheasant and a dove, underline by their exceptional, unnatural gathering the godliness of the conversation.

Almost in the centre of the picture, the saint and his companion appear simultaneously a second time. The two scenes are compositionally separated by the two figures which are seen standing in profile. Not until they reach the background do the two landscapes meet. Various chronological levels become evident in the conscious division of the pictorial space. On the wall the city coat of arms of Montefalco appears.

Before St Francis, four men are reverently kneeling. The one in the front is wearing a Franciscan habit and a cap bearing the inscription M. MARCUS. He is holding a bishop's miter in his hands. This might be the "Master Marcus" who towards the end of the 14th century was the bishop of Sarsina and later of Marsico Nuovo. Fra Jacopo, who commissioned the work, is the second kneeling Franciscan. The other people are presumably members of the Calvi family, which in the 15th century acted on several occasions as donors for the church of San Francesco in Montefalco.

The inscription beneath the picture describes what is taking place: QUANDO B. F. PR(A)EDICAVIT AUIBUS APUD MEUANEUM DEMU(M) BENEDIXIT MO(N)TEM FALONE(M) ET P(O)PULU(M) - "How St. Francis preached to the birds and then blessed Montefalco and the population."