Paolo Uccello - The Battle of San Romano c.1450

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Paolo Uccello

Paolo Uccello (or Paolo di Dono as he was born) was a Florentine artist and mathematician who lived from 1397-1475. Similar to Donatello, Uccello had an apprenticeship with the sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, who did the Florentine Baptistery doors. At first these paintings seem a complete mess of frantic individuals and animals. However, at a closer glance it is a very carefully thought out series of paintings.

Lorenzo the Magnificent

These paintings were originally commissioned by the Bartolini family, but Lorenzo the Magnificent, Cosimo de Medici's grandson, decided he liked it and thus in 1492 the paintings were moved to the Medici Palace.

Those of you who like the TV show 'The Borgias' will recognise this set of paintings from the episode about Lucrezia's Wedding. They are hung on the wall of the Prince's dining room when Cardinal della Rovere visits. (Della Rovere was also a patron of the arts so expect some posts soon as we approach the High Renaissance...)

These 3 paintings depict 3 different scenes of the Battle of San Romano between the Florentines and the Sienese. This was an extremely topical set of paintings as the Battle had occurred in 1432, less than 20 years before this commission. They show the moment when Florentine horsemen were trapped in a valley by the Sienese and were rescued by another lot of Florentine horsemen when they were sent to their aid.

It has been suggested by some art historians that these paintings represent dawn, midday and dusk because of how long the battle lasted. Furthermore, these paintings all use linear perspective to draw the viewer's eye to the height of the battle.

Uccello is a perfect example of an Early Renaissance artist struggling with embracing the new revival of antiquity but still clinging to the Gothic style. He was also obsessed with Perspective. According to Giorgio Vasari (who wrote about the Renaissance artists), Uccello would stay up all night perfecting Perspective. This is extremely evident in the paintings as the figures are not very well painted, but you can see the care Uccello has put in perfecting the perspective.

The first painting - 'Niccolo Mauruzi da Tolentino at the Battle of San Romano'

The first painting depicts Niccolo da Tolentino leading the Florentine army. Here, he is shown not wearing a helmet but a rather large red and gold hat which suggests something about his character.

Above the battle scene we can see a couple of fields and roads leading away. If you look closely enough (or click on the photo to enlarge, you can see two messengers that da Tolentino's has sent to Attendolo, who was an Italian condottiero with whom an allied army were waiting.

In terms of perspective, here the lances are seemingly 'scattered' on the floor and some dead men lie there, however these are actually very carefully placed as 'orthogonals' (see Linear Perspective post). These cause the vanishing point to be just by the red hat.

The second painting - 'The counterattack of Michelotto da Cotignola at the Battle of San Romano'

This painting shows three stages of movement within the three-part painting, bit much..? On the left hand side the army is about to move with lances at the ready.

In the middle Michelotto da Cotignola, also known as Michello Attendolo, Florence's ally, sits on a rearing black horse commanding his army forward with a raised right arm.

On the right hand side, the army are shown preparing their lances.

The third painting - 'Niccolo Mauruzi da Tolentino unseats Bernardino della Ciarda at the Battle of San Romano'

In the background we can see hunting fields with a rather strange, tall red figure marching across the scene towards jumping animals.

Furthermore, the background fields and roads are different in this painting from the previous one which suggests that we are viewing the battlefield from the opposite direction perhaps.

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