Paolo Ucello, Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino at the Battle of San Romano (detail, probably c. 1438–1440), egg tempera with walnut oil and linseed oil on poplar, 182 × 320 cm, National Gallery, London
Paolo Ucello | The Battle of San Romano, c. 1438–1440
One of the most important paintings of the Renaissance is the triptych Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello, the apprentice of the famous Italian sculptor Ghiberti.
The Battle of San Romano is a set of three paintings, depicting events that took place at the Battle of San Romano between Florentine and Sienese forces in 1432. They are significant as revealing the development of linear perspective in early Italian Renaissance painting, and are unusual as a major secular commission. The paintings are in egg tempera on wooden panels, each over 3 metres long. According to the National Gallery, London, the panels were commissioned by a member of the Bartolini Salimbeni family in Florence sometime between 1435 and 1460. The paintings were much admired in the 15th century; Lorenzo de' Medici so coveted them that he purchased one and had the remaining two forcibly removed to the Palazzo Medici.
The masterpiece consists of three panel paintings, each one describing a different hour of the day: "Niccolo Mauruzi da Tolentino at the Battle of San Romano (c.1438-1440, National Gallery, London); Niccolo da Tolentino Unseats Bernardino della Ciarda (c.1435 to 1455, Uffizi Gallery, Florence); and The Counterattack of Michelotto da Cotignola (c.1455, Louvre Museum, Paris)". What makes this cycle a masterpiece is the bold and experimental use of the perspective who made Uccello famous.
In the sixteenth century the artist, courtier, and historian Giorgio Vasari devoted a chapter to Paolo Uccello (whose real name was Paolo di Dono) in his book, The Lives of the Most Excellent Italian Architects, Painters, and Sculptors. He described Uccello as a man so obsessed with the study of perspective that he neglected his painting, his family, and even his beloved birds, until he finally became “solitary, eccentric, melancholy, and impoverished.” (Vasari, p. 79). His wife “used to declare that Paolo stayed at his desk all night, searching for the vanishing points of perspective, and when she called him to bed, he dawdled, saying: ‘Oh, what a sweet thing this perspective is!’”°°° (Vasari, p. 83). (translation by J.C. and P. Bondanella, Oxford, 1911)
Paolo Ucello, Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino at the Battle of San Romano (probably c. 1438–1440), egg tempera with walnut oil and linseed oil on poplar, 182 × 320 cm, National Gallery, London
In the London painting, Niccolò da Tolentino, with his large gold and red patterned hat, is seen leading the Florentine cavalry. He had a reputation for recklessness, and doesn't even wear a helmet, though he sent two messengers (the departure of the two messengers, depicted centre, top) to tell his allied army of Attendolo to hurry to his aid as he is facing a superior force. In the foreground, broken lances and a dead soldier are carefully aligned, so as to create an impression of perspective. The three paintings were designed to be hung high on three different walls of a room, and the perspective designed with that height in mind, which accounts for many apparent anomalies in the perspective when seen in photos or at normal gallery height.
Many areas of the paintings were covered with gold and silver leaf. While the gold leaf, such as that found on the decorations of the bridles, has remained bright, the silver leaf, found particularly on the armour of the soldiers, has oxidized to a dull grey or black. The original impression of the burnished silver would have been dazzling. All of the paintings, especially that in the Louvre, have suffered from time and early restoration, and many areas have lost their modelling.
Paolo Ucello, Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino unseats Bernardino della Ciarda at the Battle of San Romano (dating uncertain, c. 1435–1455), tempera on wood, 182 × 320 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
In the center panel housed in the Uffizi (below), Bernadino della Ciarda, the leader of the Sienese mercenaries is struck by a lance and knocked from his horse. The soldier is the man on the white horse just in the center, hit by an enemy spear. The crux of the battle shows Bernadino sprawled on the ground to the right of the painting's central axis.
The composition is very crowded, but despite that the atmosphere is somewhat unreal and the knights look like fake dummies of a medieval tournament. Paolo Uccello is more interested in the perspective and its application than in the human feelings.
The naturalistic details, the hunting scenes in the background, the finicky description of the armors and the horses remind us of the fairy-tale gothic aestethics.
Paolo Ucello, The Counterattack of Michelotto da Cotignola at the Battle of San Romano (c. 1455), wood panel, 182 × 317 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris
Paolo Uccello The Battle of San Romano - YouTube
Private life of a Masterpiece (BBC Documentary) - Paolo Uccello The Battle of San Romano - YouTube
The Battle of San Romano was fought on June 1st 1432, some 30 miles outside Florence, between the troops of Florence, commanded by Niccolò da Tolentino, and Siena, under Francesco Piccinino. The outcome is generally considered favourable to the Florentines, but in the Sienese chronicles it was considered a victory. As the 1430s began Florence had found itself in conflict with the rival city state of Lucca, and her allies, Siena and Milan.
The Florentine deployed about 4,000 horse and 2,000 infantry. The clash, which lasted for some six or seven hours, consisted of a series of heavy cavalry fights. It was decided by the intervention of a second cavalry corps commanded by Micheletto Attendolo.  Paolo Uccello The Battle of San Romano NG583
 National Gallery Catalogues: The Fifteenth Century Italian Paintings, Volume 1, by Dillian Gordon, 2003, pp. 378–397 ISBN 1-85709-293-7
Harrington, Peter, "Military history's loss is Art History's Gain," Quarterly Journal of Military History, Vol. 16, No. 1, Autumn 2003, pp. 44–49.
Starn, Randolph and Loren Partridge, "Representing war in the Renaissance: The shield of Paolo Uccello," Representations, No. 5, Winter 1984, 33-65.
References in popular culture
The dark horse in the Louvre panel, mounted by Micheletto Attendolo, can be seen painted in a tapestry, in the first segment ("Metzengerstein") of the 1968 omnibus film 'Spirits of the Dead'. In the 4th Episode (Lucrezia's Wedding) of the 2011 TV Series 'The Borgias', the London and Louvre panel is shown adorning the dining hall walls of the Florentine Prince when cardinal Della Rovere visits him in Florence.
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