Olga's Gallery

Apsidal Chapel of Sant'Agostino in San Gimignano, Italy.

Frescos by Benozzo Gozzoli


The single-aisled hall church with three apsidal chapels and an open roof truss, built by the Augustinian canons between 1280 and 1298, is a typical example of the Gothic architecture of the mendicant orders in central Italy.

Benozzo Gozzoli received the commission from Fra Domenico Strambi, a learned Augustinian monk belonging to the monastery.
The cycle depicts 17 scenes from the life of St. Augustine. When selecting scenes from the legend of St Augustine, Benozzo had to create his own iconography without using models, and Domenico Strambi helped him to achieve this. His cycle of the Doctor of the Church is one of the main works of Tuscan narrative art.

The 17 pictures, which are arranged in three rows, use the traditional horizontal direction of reading, from the bottom left to the top right. In the lowest register Benozzo depicts the education, teachings and journeys of the saint. The middle register shows St.Augustine's path to Christian faith, and the lunette fields shows the culmination of his jorney through life.

 The Four Evangelists on the vault symbolize the kingdom of God.


The First Row of Frescos

The School of Tagaste is the first fresco in the narration. On the left, the young Augustine's first day at the elementary school in Tagaste is depicted, and on the right, his quickness and eagerness to learn. Within the family group his mother, St. Monica, is highlighted by means of a golden halo.
The next fresco is St. Augustine at the University of Carthage, where he studied rhetoric and philosophy. The fresco has been severely damaged.
St. Augustine Leaving His Mother. St. Monica appears twice on this fresco - on the left she is praying in a church. On the right she is blessing her departing son.
Disembarkation at Ostia. St. Augustine is coming to Italy, at the harbor of Ostia near Rome, in search of true knowledge.
St Augustine Teaching in Rome. St. Augustine on this fresco, older than on previous ones, is depicted as a scholar of rhetoric.
St. Augustine Departing for Milan. St. Augustine left Rome in the autumn of 384 in order to take up the position of municipal teacher of rhetoric in Milan. It's believed that the man in the scarlet garment in the right corner of the picture is the self-portrait of Benozzo.


The Second Row of Frescos

Arrival of St. Augustine in Milan. Three scenes from the legend of St. Augustine are combined in one fresco and are shown as simulteneous events. In the center, a servant is helping the just arrived St.Augustine to take off his riding clothes. In the background St. Augustine is kneeling before a Muslim scholar. On the right, St. Augustine is greeted by St. Ambrose.
Scenes with St. Ambrose. On the left St. Augustine is standing and listening to St. Ambrose. On the right, St. Augustine is meditating on St. Ambrose's preaching.
St. Augustine Reading the Epistle of St. Paul. St. Augustine is depicted in a garden, where, accoding to tradition, he heard the voice of a child repeatedly telling him to read the Gospels.
Baptism of St. Augustine. St. Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose. In the scene he is depicted surrounded by his followers, including his mother, St. Monica, who is standing behind him. The clergyman who is holding the newly baptized man's clothing is thought to be a portrait of Domenico Strambi, the man who commissioned the cycle.
The Parable of the Holy Trinity and the Visit to the Monks of Mount Pisano.
On the left, Christ appears in the form of a boy who is attempting to transfer all the waters of the ocean into a small hollow using a spoon. When St. Augustine, who was meditating on the mystery of the Holy Trinity, explained to the boy how pointless his actions were, the latter replied that thinking about the mystery of the Holy Trinity was even more fruitless.
In the background, St. Augustine is talking to a group of monks and a path leads to a monastery on a top of the mountain; the scene depicts a legend according to which St. Augustine visited the hermit monks on the Mount Pisano and founded the monastery there.
On the right, St. Augustine is reading to the monks the rules of their new monastery. The legend suggested that the Augustinian hermits had originated in Tuscany.
In fact, St. Augustine founded his community in the fourth century in nothern Africa. The rule of the Augustinians, dating from 338-389, is the oldest Western monastic rule. In 12 short chapters it lays down the fundamentals of monastic life. The goals of the monastic community are poverty, brotherly love, obedience, prayer, reading the Scriptures, work and apostolic work; a life characterized by seclusion and humility. In 1256, Pope Alexander (1254-1261) founded the order of Augustinian hermits by combining several groups of Italian hermits who had been living according to the rule of St. Augustine since 1243.
Death of St. Monica, is the last fresco in the second row. St Monica is praying on her deathbed. Domenico Strambi is standing on the right of the bed wearing the blue cap. On the right, through the colonnade, one can see the departure of St. Augustine to Numibia.


The Third Row of Frescos, Lunettes


Blessing of the Faithful at Hippo. The right part of the fresco is badly damaged, St. Augustine can be recognized by his bishop's miter, he's blessing the kneeling people on the left part of the fresco.
Conversion of the Heretic. The event is described in the Golden Legend, the Manichaeist presbyter Fortunatus is being converted by St. Augustine. The Legend says about many conversion made by St. Augustine. On the fresco, St. Augustine is wearing the Augustinian monk habit, and his bishop's surplice over it.
St. Augustine's Vision of St. Jerome. St. Augustine is depicted as a scholar working on a treatise, he entered into a mystical communication with St. Jerome.
Funeral of St. Augustine concludes the cycle of frescos.


The two entrance pillars to the chapel round off the fresco paintings with four saints in niches on each side.

St. Monica. St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. In contrast to customary iconography, she is holding a book instead of a rosary. This may be a reference to her son's eagerness to study, for he learnt about the Christian faith from his mother.
St. Gimignano.The patron saint of San Gimignano is holding a realistic view of the town in his hands. According to legend he, the bishop of Modena, protected the small town of Sylvio from the attacks of Attila. The town changed its name into San Gimignano.
St. Sebastian. More.
St. Bartolus. St. Bartolus (1228-1300), the patron saint of protection from infectious diseases. He was born in San Gimignano in 1228 and lived as a member of the Third Order of Franciscans in the monastery of San Vito in Pisa. He ran the leper home in Celole near San Gimignano for 20 years.
St. Nicholas of Bari. More.
St. Fina. More.
St. Nicholas of Tolentino. St. Nicholas of Tolentino, who was canonised only in 1446, was one of the most popular saints of the order of Augustinian hermits, which he entered in 1255. His attribute is a white lily, a symbol of the purity of his mind.
Raphael and Tobias. More.

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