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

Baptism of St Augustine (scene 11, east wall)

Fresco, 220 x 230 cm
Apsidal chapel, Sant'Agostino, San Gimignano

St Augustine is seen at the very moment he is baptized, kneeling in prayer before the pillars of a baptistery behind a rectangular basin filled with water, on which the picture's date of origin has been recorded: ADI PRIMO DAPRILE MILLE CCCCLXIIII (1 April 1464). He is surrounded by his followers, including his mother who is standing behind him. The clergyman holding the newly baptized man's clothing is thought to be a portrait of Domenico Strambi, the man who commissioned the cycle.

The Baptism of St Augustine was, according to the "Legenda Aurea" or Golden Legend, carried out at Easter 378 by St Ambrose in Milan with the words "te Deum laudamus" (we praise you as [our] God), to which St Augustine replied "te Dominum confitemur" (we recognize your as [our] Lord). This liturgical hymn of thanksgiving, the "Te Deum", is mentioned in the "Legenda Aurea" as being a song of praise between St Ambrose and St Augustine. In the medieval liturgy, the "Te Deum" was sung as the conclusion of Matins the midnight office, and on ceremonial liturgical occasions. The melody is one of the oldest Gregorian chants. The architecture of the baptistery, with an individual pilaster for each of the figures in the picture, emphasizes the religious dignity of the event.

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