Benozzo Gozzoli is the “genius loci” of Valdelsa. From San Gimignano in Certaldo to Castelfiorentino, his works were set in the shadow of venerable bell towers and civic structures as ancient and proud as the local people themselves.
Benozzo felt at home in Valdelsa. The people appreciated his painting, which had a sophisticated yet common air that was captivating, expressed with grace and awareness. Though more than five centuries have gone by, Benozzo is still alive in the memories and hearts of the inhabitants. From generation to generation, the citizens of today and their public administration have inherited a warm appreciation, affection and gratitude for an artist who worked for the Pope in Rome and the Medicis in Florence, but who in the end was attracted by the rustic beauty of this valley more than any other place in Italy.
This explains the creation of a museum dedicated to Benozzo in Castelfiorentino. A project by the architect Massimo Mariani, backed by financing from local authorities and the Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, realized a structure specially designed to host the detached frescos of two famous tabernacles (the Madonna of the Cough and the Madonna of the Visitation) that Benozzo Gozzoli painted locally in 1484 and 1491, respectively.
The information project directed by Serena Nocentini, Elena Fani and the Historical Institute of Science [Istituto di Storia della Scienza] of Florence allows visitors to see and to know the entire artistic progression of Benozzo. Everyone should know that the painter who loved Valdelsa is there through his works in Castelfiorentino, but also in the Palazzi Apostolici of Rome, in the Medicis house in Florence, the Camposanto Monumentale in Pisa, in Montefalco and in Orvieto, in Volterra, in Viterbo and in Terni as well as other museums in Italy and throughout the world.
I have often wondered how it must have felt to be traveller from the late 1400s walking through the streets of Castelfiorentino and coming across the Tabernacle of the Visitation. It would surely have been impossible not to stop, enchanted by the series of scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary which spoke to travellers through their colours and harmonious movements and brought them safety on the road, accompanying them on their journey with their imposing presence. And then, a few kilometres further on, near Castelnuovo d’Elsa, what an impression the fervent praying of the mothers kneeling before the Tabernacle of the Madonna of the Cough, hoping to protect their children from “whooping cough”, must have made. Benozzo Gozzoli left indelible marks on this area and on the historical memory of the local community. For this reason, we decided to recreate these enchanting sensations within the Benozzo Gozzoli Museum, built around his roadside tabernacles, so that they could speak once more to those who wished to listen.
Today’s local authorities play a conscious role in promoting cultural assets, and Castelfiorentino is undoubtedly a city in which culture is both practised and enjoyed. In the space of just over twenty years, there has been a notable increase in our attention and commitment to cultural assets. This process began in the mid 1980s, when Benozzo Gozzoli’s two cycles of frescoes “came home” and the people of Castelfiorentino were finally able to see these two pieces of their history once again. It then continued with the new site of the Vallesiana library, the restoration of the “Ridotto” of the Teatro del Popolo (Theatre of the People), the work on the San Carlo Chapel, the opening of the Santa Verdiana Museum, the site of the Music School, the restoration of the circle of walls on the Parish Church hill, the imminent reopening of the Teatro del Popolo (Theatre of the People), and so on.
It is surely no coincidence that this demanding, difficult and laborious yet certainly exciting and perhaps unrepeatable “blossoming” of our cultural assets began then and reaches its conclusion today with the celebration of this great painter and his two cycles of frescoes. The new, modern museum is a place where everyone, but especially the citizens of Castelfiorentino, can enjoy moments of reflection and spiritual nourishment worthy of our forefathers who, almost two centuries ago, enchanted Stendhal as he passed through the city with their stories and ancient legends and, above all, with the “charm of their intelligence and the highly original courteousness of their manners”.
Benozzo Gozzoli’s works are closely tied to the area in which he created them, and therefore to promote the work of this great master and populariser of the wonders of Florentine Renaissance art beyond the confines of Florence is to promote Castelfiorentino itself. This achievement was made possible by the contribution of the Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, which provided significant and indispensable financial support. I would also like to thank Antonio Paolucci who kept the dream alive with his invaluable vision of art through time and through the history of mankind.
It is my pleasure and honour, therefore, dedicate all this to my city and my fellow citizens, who can now rediscover the beauty passed down to them by history, and to the younger generations, in particular, who will be able to benefit from this opportunity for growth and appreciation of their great heritage which enriches their lives and undoubtedly makes their city all the more beautiful.