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The Battle Of San Romano: A Florentine Perfection By Uccello


One of the three panels of The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello
The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello | Source: Paolo Uccello, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When the disappointed faces of 2022 were finally walloped with an explicitly hard welcome of the new year yesterday, I was at the dead end of my study room, pretending to be happy about getting back to work after a long vacation filled with baby sleep, desserts, and family conversations. Obviously, I wanted and craved more rest in the tanned days of December (Don't blame it on me, it's climate change), but deep down, my occasional nerd wanted to show up again. Now you must be thankful to me. Why? Because leaving behind the plans to flaunt my favourite beachwear in Sardinia and warm-comforting meatballs, I chose to be with you on the very first day of the upcoming year. So here I am with the same joy and energy as the last year but with more hopes and determination to introduce you to our new and compulsive painting analysis from the Renaissance period. Yes, for all the art lovers and beginners, I thought to make you aware of the entire Renaissance period through upcoming articles. What's new today? We are learning about a famous and legendary painting by a controversial Florentine Renaissance artist, Paolo Uccello. It is The Battle of San Romano, a series of three artworks on frescos! Here we are, stepping into the world of knowledge and digital nerds. But before we learn anything about the beautiful artwork, I will show you something about the artist and his life. (Come to the next section)


Artist Abstract: Who Was Paolo Uccello?


Paolo Di Dono, or Uccello, is one of the leading fifteenth-century Florentine artists who interested and seeded curiosity among many modern critics. You must be amazed to know that he was the most problematic personality in the history of Italian art, as he was never reassessed in the light of recent aesthetic theories nor categorized as a genius, even though he was proficient in the perspective within his artworks. Now let me clarify it for you on it. You must have heard about Benozzo Gozzoli. While he had a lesser reputation and stature than Uccello, he still lived a life of honourable mediocrity. Many authoritative critics have successfully indicated that Uccello was in the wrong vocation, which is an insult to the artists. But why so? Just a mere reason, he was too perfect for art. It means he was a man with a scientific bent, giving so much perspective that he surpassed the imperfections of art. Critics often find his artistic personality contradictory due to this reason.


A portrait of florentine renaissance artist Paolo Uccello
Paolo Uccello Portrait by Unknown Artist | Source: I, Sailko, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Born in 1397, his father, Dono di Paolo was a barber-surgeon from Pratovecchio in the Casentino and his mother, Antonia di Giovanni Castelli del Beccuto, was a homemaker. Evidently, he signed works with the name Pavli Vccelli or Vcieli OPVS. Hence, how he got his name is not evident within the documentation and his inscriptions. By the source of Vasari, we know that Uccello underwent his first training in Ghiberti's workshop in 1407 with the lowest payment of five Florentines. He was been in the studio till 1414. When I say about Ghiberti's art, briefly, you must know that between the period of 1407 to 1415, his studio was a major stronghold for International gothic, which spread from the courts of Bohemia and Burgundy to Central Italy. His style showed pervasive linear rhythms, reflections of northern metalwork and naturalism, which then became part of Uccello's artwork. When learning about the records of Uccello's activity during the next ten years, we know nothing about him. Furthermore, a will of 5 August 1425 showed the artist's desire to be buried next to his father in Santo Spirito. In 1453, his wife Tommasa di Benedetto Malifici gave birth to a son, Donato, and after three years, a daughter, Antonia. He lived in a house in Via Della Scala during that time.


Now that you know about the artist, in brief, allow me to take you to the circumstances when the epic painting of the Battle of San Romano was composed. So, meet me in the next section.


History And Background Of Paolo Uccello The Battle Of San Romano.


The artist is generally remembered for his three panels depicting 'The Rout of San Romano or The Battle of San Romano', which emphasizes a decorative and non-illusionistic system of perspective. Today these reside in the National Gallery in London, the Galleria Degli Uffizi in Florence and the Musée du Louvre in Paris. When I tell you about the artwork, it is necessary to go to the historical story.


So the battle commemorated in the Rout of San Romano took place on 1 June 1432. During the same year in April, the Florentine territory was devastated by the Sienese forces under Bernardino Della Carda in alliance with the Duke of Milan. Considering Florentine territory's strenuous circumstances, Niccolo Maurucci da Tolentino was chosen as the new condottieri in place of Micheletto Attendoli da Cotignola. And undoubtedly, the decision severely affected the situation, snatching the victory from the defeat. A very captivating war move made it happen. Niccolo pursued the Sienese with such temerity that he lost track of his main force and was left with just 20 horsemen, where they were surprised by the Sienese troops in the Arno Valley near the Tower of San Romano. After fighting straight for eight hours, they were finally relieved by Micheletto da Cotignola, who was crossing the Arno and set upon the Sienese rear making a victory for the Florentine side.


The story filled with bravery and persistence is surely attentive and superb, and so is the artwork by Uccello. As a decorative whole, the three panels did not depict a continuous narrative but rather three separate incidents. On the left, Niccolo da Tolentino directed the Battle of San Romano, centre, The unhorsing of Bernardino dellaCarda and right, Micheletto da Cotignola attacking the Sienese rear. Let me give you more depth about them in the next section (the most awaited part of the article).


Formal Analysis Of The Painting.


Before we study the formal analysis of the artwork, The Battle of San Romano, let me tell you its interesting fact. The work is still more than a memento because of the homage paid to great artists, an original composition with the victory of Florentine troops, which also indicates the subject matter to be non-religious. Additionally, you must know that it is one of the earliest examples of "three-quarter figures painted in Tuscany under Flemish influence"(Salmi).


Please allow me to take you to the studying part for each of the artworks separately.


1. Niccolo Mauruzi da Tolentino At Battle Of San Romano.


The scenery represents Niccolo and his knights charging the Sienese. You can see the central figure as Niccolo with his white horse in a war position. he carries a commander's baton, dressed with a short cloak over his armour with a contrasting red brocade. His dressing of Damask cloak and headdress resembles the background of a Madonna by Giambono. There is a full engagement of the battle where Niccolo was fighting against the Sienese troops with his twenty horsemen. Behind the Niccolo horse, towards the sky, there is a flag having strips of red and blue. The grounds are littered with shreds of armour, shattered as a helmet and body of an armed knight. The entire scene focuses on the war, but the artist kept the viewer engaged through the fantastic landscape details of a thick green hedge with oranges and roses. Behind them, a barren hill of normal people and agricultural land is also seen.


Niccolo Mauruzi da Tolentino at the Battle of San Romano Painting
Niccolo Mauruzi da Tolentino at the Battle of San Romano | Source: Paolo Uccello, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

2. Niccolo Mauruzi da Tolentino Unseats Bernardino della Ciarda At Battle Of San Romano.


An enemy horseman's lance struck Bernardino Della Ciarda's horse, leaving him unhorsed after the battle. Further, he depicts a confused state through a crowd of armed horsemen falling with their arms. The Battle scene represents the cluttered state with a verge to end. Further, there is an extended form of naturalism in this artwork, visible from the falling of the Bernardino to the charging knight of the horse. The entire composition shows the movement of figures and knights with a dramatic landscape.

Niccolo Mauruzi da Tolentino Unseats Bernardino della Ciarda At the Battle Of San Romano
Niccolo Mauruzi da Tolentino Unseats Bernardino della Ciarda At The Battle Of San Romano | Source: Paolo Uccello, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

3. The Decisive Counterattack Of Michelotto da Cotignola At Battle Of San Romano.


The scene depicts the arrival of Florentine reinforcements under Micheletto Attendolo da Cotignola, the second stage of the battle. It also further shows the arrival of Florentine reinforcements under Micheletto Attendolo da Cotignola. He is sitted on a black horse, wearing a brocade hat. Behind him, there are horsemen and infantry with flags. Since the scene depicts the arrival, the ground is clear, showing that the attack is not yet underway.


The Decisive Counterattack Of Michelotto da Cotignola At Battle Of San Romano
The Decisive Counterattack Of Michelotto da Cotignola At The Battle Of San Romano | Source: Paolo Uccello, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When you see them in common, the scenes in all the panels are unsynchronized with a lack of continuity in landscapes and composition of figures which demarcates the three paintings for being considered as a single composition. Further, the artist tried to separate the three scenes through the group of lances and poles.


There is one more noteworthy thing that Uccello tried to contrast by foreshortened figures and the full figure of Bernardino and Niccolo. Further, there are other comparisons with colour and rhythm. For example, in the first scene, Niccolo's horse is white, whereas the masses have dark-coloured horses to instantly spot the subject of the artwork. It goes the same with the horses of the main subject in every scene of the panel. The menacing horsemen, hidden faces with a covering of helmets, and the silver dresses of the chivalry in the war are also noteworthy. Therefore, through this division of contrasting figures and colours, Uccello achieved visual simultaneity in this artwork. Further, the space utilization is in unity and discipline form.


Pope-Hennessy says,

"The horses in The Rout Of San Romano seem inanimate and motionless; and like the fourth dimension of a fairy-tale, the device used for depicting space in The Nativity serves to suspend and not induce belief."

Colour Analysis Of The Artwork.


Coming to the colours of the painting, you see there is the usage of elementary colours like red, green, blue, golden, white and black. In all the scenes, for displaying masses the artist used the greyish and warm-neutral tones of colour. Whereas, the chivalry and the rival horses take away all the spots of the painting through their rich colour composition. There is a great colour contrast with red and golden hues on the dress of Niccolo and other crucial elements.


Final Words.


Paintings like the Battle of San Romano display the exact precision of the actual moment and are more than any memento. Tell me; what you think about them. And, yes, before I bid you bye, I have the last thing to tell you about this art, which is only the central part was signed by the artist Uccello. Show me your thoughts on this legendary artwork, and let me know if I missed anything here.

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