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

Scenes from the Life of St Francis (Scene 9, north wall)

Fresco, 304 x 220 cm
Apsidal chapel, San Francesco, Montefalco

The concluding four pictures start in the third row of the right north wall. The picture fields become narrower towards the top, as they are the lunettes of the individual walls. For this reason, and because of the greater distance from the viewer, Benozzo only depicts one event in each picture in the upper row. There is, however, one exception: the stigmatisation takes place in two picture fields. In this way, Benozzo honours St Francis of Assisi as the most important of the saints bearing the stigmata.

The picture shows the birth of Christ being celebrated in the monastery of Greccio. St Francis, who is kneeling in the foreground inside a church, is lovingly cradling the crib figure of the Christ Child in his arms, thus bringing it to life. The faithful who have gathered to celebrate mass notice the miracle and are gazing in reverence and astonishment at the scene.

The Establishment of the Manger at Greccio, probably the most impressive picture in the cycle, takes place in a church interior that is constructed according to the laws of central perspective. The vanishing point lies behind the third pilaster in the rear wall. The perspective, therefore, is not used in the sense of a "symbolic form", according to which the central motif of the picture - the spiritual closeness of the saint and the Christ Child - would have to appear at the vanishing point. The motionless figures of the faithful and St Francis and the animals resting in the stable in Bethlehem support the static composition of the picture and give the event an air of sacred solemnity. The architecture of the church interior is composed of two different stylistic epochs: the tracery windows and pointed arches are Gothic architectural forms, while the fluted pilasters, straight cornices and oculus windows are architectural elements typical of the Early Renaissance.

The legend of St Francis written by St Bonaventure tells us about the Christmas celebrations in Greccio. It has been shown that Greccio, which lies a little beyond the southern border of Umbria, near Rieti in northern Latium, was the first place where a manger was set up.

The inscription added beneath the picture reads: QUANDO BS. F. FECIT REPRESENTATIONEM NATIVITATIS ET AP(P)ARVIT SIBI CHRISTUS IN BRACHIIS - "How St. Francis arranged for a representation of Christmas and the Christ Child appeared in his arms."