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Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Battle of the Nudes, 1465–1475. Engraving 42.4 x 60.9 cm. Second-state impression at the British Museum

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Battle of the Nudes


The Battle of the Nudes or Battle of the Naked Men,[1] probably dating from 1465–1475, is an engraving by the Florentine goldsmith and sculptor Antonio del Pollaiuolo which is one of the most significant old master prints of the Italian Renaissance. The engraving is large at 42.4 x 60.9 cm, and depicts five men wearing headbands and five men without, fighting in pairs with weapons in front of a dense background of vegetation. All the figures are posed in different strained and athletic positions, and the print is advanced for the period in this respect. The style is classicizing, although they grimace fiercely, and their musculature is strongly emphasized. An effective and largely original return-stroke engraving technique was employed to model the bodies, with delicate and subtle effect.

Context and reception

Vasari, who praises the engraving highly, says that Pollaiuolo made other prints, but none have survived. Given the rarity of this one, Vasari may well be right, although he was writing many decades later. Alternatively he may have been referring to a number of prints after paintings or drawings of Pollaiuolo, but now universally seen as engraved by different artists to the battle, and now mostly attributed as "School of Pollaiuolo" or similar terms.
As with Andrea Mantegna, the dominant Italian printmaker of the period, based mostly in Mantua, the suggestion has been made that Pollaiuolo may not have engraved the plate himself, but hired a specialist to work from his design. However this remains a minority view.[2] Engraving was an essential skill of the goldsmith, and Pollaiuolo's workshop produced niello engraved plaques. Estimates of the date of the engraving have varied from about 1465 to about 1489.[3] As with most famous prints of the period, a number of direct copies were made in engraving and woodcut,[4] and it was often borrowed from and imitated, for example in a drawing probably by Raphael. It is the first print to be signed with the artist's full name (on the plaque at the left rear), as opposed to the initials or monograms used by many printmakers.[5]

The print clearly relates to the work of Mantegna, although uncertainty about the dating of the works of both artists means that the direction of influence is unclear. Mantegna made two large engravings of the "Battle of the Sea-Gods", and he or his followers produced a number of others of male nudes fighting under various classical titles. Despite the usual attempts by art historians, including in this case Erwin Panofsky, to identify a specific subject for the engraving, it is likely none was intended.[6] The two central figures grasp the ends of a large chain, which may suggest that the figures are to be seen as gladiators.[7]

Vasari wrote of Pollaiuolo:

He had a more modern grasp of the nude than the masters who preceded him, and he dissected many bodies to study their anatomy; and he was the first to demonstrate the method of searching out the muscles, in order that they might have their due form and place in his figures; and of those ... he engraved a battle.

On the other hand, it has been suggested that Leonardo da Vinci may have had Pollaiuolo partly in mind when he wrote that artists should not:

make their nudes wooden and without grace, so that they seem to look like a sack of nuts rather than the surface of a human being, or indeed a bundle of radishes rather than muscular nudes[8]

Like all successful Renaissance prints, the Battle was copied by other printmakers, including "Johannes of Frankfurt" in about 1490.[9]


Like most 15th century prints, the Battle is very rare. The unique first-state impression in the print room of the Cleveland Museum of Art is generally accepted as much the finest, [10] and about forty-nine impressions (single examples) survive of the second state,[11] which is actually a high number for a 15th-century print. For the period, the print is very large, which has probably contributed to the small number of surviving impressions - it is clear from the worn state of the plate in many impressions that large numbers, probably running into the hundreds, were printed of the second state. There are no significant differences between the two states, so the plate was probably reworked just because it had worn out from the printing of now lost first-state impressions.[12]

The existence of the first state was only realized in 1967, after Cleveland bought their print from the Liechtenstein collection. The best impression of the second state is in the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard; it appears to be the only one printed before the plate received a scratch, and from the paper and watermark would appear to have been printed close in time to the Cleveland impression.[13] The two woodcut copies can be shown to have been copied from the first state.[14]


The print is inscribed "Opus Antonii Pollaioli Florenttini," prominently displayed on a tabula ansata, a plaque with handles. Because of this inscription, it has been assumed that Pollaiuolo engraved the plate himself, but that assumption is open to question. Additionally, both the subject and the date of the print are unknown.
The inscription on the print has been seen as indicating that Pollaiuolo pushed the burin through the copper himself, but on the tomb of Sixtus IV, finished in 1493, a similar inscription reads "Opus Antoni Pollaiuoli Florentini," and then "A-R-G, A-U-R, P-I-C-T, A-E-R-E, Clari" (The work of the Florentine Antonio Pollaiuolo, famous in silver, gold, painting, and bronze).

The inscriptions on both print and tomb proudly identify the conception--the disegno--as Pollaiuolo's, but the actual production may have been by someone else.

Although most art historians have dated the work to the period 1465-75, in 1984 the suggestion was made that the print draws directly from a Roman sculpture known to have been excavated in Rome in 1489, Three Satyrs strangled by a Serpent (now Graz in Austria). Pollaiuolo was in Rome from 1484, and this would mean the print was executed there. This suggestion remains the subject of debate.[15]
It is difficult to date Pollaiuolo's works on the basis of style; the artist seems to have arrived at his characteristic style at a relatively early age and changed little over the course of his life. Thus, it has been suggested that the print was made as early as the 1470s, but no persuasive argument backs up the opinion.

Surviving impressions

There are fifty impressions known to have survived to 1939; their distribution gives an interesting insight into the spread of top-class old master prints. As at the census in Langdale in 2002, there are sixteen in the United States, all apparently arrived since 1890, and mostly in the period 1930-1960. Italy has nine impressions, England five, and Paris three. There were five in Germany in 1939, of which one seems definitely to have been destroyed during World War II, one other "lost" from Bremen, and one lost sight of after the war. The other impressions outside Europe are in Melbourne and Ottawa; in Europe the Albertina in Vienna, the Netherlands (3), Strasbourg (1) and Budapest have impressions. Two of the three impressions in Switzerland are the only ones in the world still in private collections.[16]

Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Battle of the Nudes, 1465–1475. Engraving 42.4 x 60.9 cm. Second-state impression at the British Museum

Pollaiuolo (1432-98) was a goldsmith and sculptor, and may have modelled his figures in clay or wax before drawing them. The two central nudes correspond to one single figure, seen from the front and back. This technique, which is characteristic of Pollaiuolo, is evident in The Martyrdom of St Sebastian (National Gallery, London). He signed this print with an impressive Latin inscription in the left background. Pollaiuolo and Mantegna were the first great Italian artists to make engravings, and each must have been aware of the other's work.[17]    



British Museum highlights | Antonio Pollaiuolo, The Battle of the Nudes, a copperplate engraving

Cleveland Museum of Art Very full Cleveland feature on the print accessed February 6, 2008.
Langdale, Shelley, Battle of the Nudes: Pollaiuolo's Renaissance Masterpiece, The Cleveland Museum of Art, 2002.
Levinson; Laurie Smith Fusco in Jay A. Levinson (ed.) Early Italian Engravings from the National Gallery of Art, pp. 66-80, National Gallery of Art, Washington (Catalogue), 1973,LOC 7379624
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: "Antonio Pollaiuolo: Battle of Naked Men (17.50.99)". In Timeline of Art History. 2000–8. [1] (October 2006)
Zucker, MJ, in KL Spangeberg (ed), Six Centuries of Master Prints, Cincinnati Art Museum, 1993, no 16,ISBN 0931537150

[1] 1. ^ And other variants
[2] See Zucker:16
[3] Langdale:51
[4] Illus Langdale:6,7
[5] Langdale:36 - if from 1489 it is not quite the first.
[6] The fullest account is in Levinson:66-71. See also Langdale:35, and Zucker:16
[7] As suggested by Colin Eisler - Levinson:68-70. See also Zucker:16
[8] Zucker:15, from which both translated quotations. (Leonardo Trans. Martin Kemp)
[9] British Museum Johannes of Frankfurt copy]
[10] Cleveland
[11] Langdale:26, 71-83. See below.
[13] Langdale:34
[14] Langdale:32

The 'Battle of the Nudes' exists in two states; although numerous impressions are known (approximately fifty), all but one are of the second state, printed after the plate had begun to wear out. The only example of the first state that has survived is in the Cleveland Museum of Art (formerly in the Liechtenstein Collection) and it shows the plate as it was originally engraved by the artist (see S.R. Langdale, exh. cat., The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 'Battle of the Nudes. Pollaiuolo's Renaissance Masterpiece', 2002). The earliest surviving example printed from the reworked plate is in the Fogg Art Museum (Harvard University). Most of the second-state impressions were trimmed, the edge of the sheets creased, abrased, soiled or torn and the areas that did not print well or suffered damage over the years often redrawn in pen and ink (a useful list of some of these is given by Langdale pp. 72-82) .
[15] Zucker:15-16
[16] Langdale:26, 71-83. 46 impressions are catalogued and described in detail in an Appendix. All 50 are listed on p. 83.
D. Landau and P. Parshall, The Renaissance print 1470-155 (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1994)

This article incorporates material from the Wikipedia article Battle of the Nudes (engraving) published under the GNU Free Documentation License.
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Holiday accomodation in Tuscany | Podere Santa Pia


Podere Santa Pia
Podere Santa Pia, garden view, April
View from terrace with a stunning view over the Maremma and Montecristo
Abbazia di Sant' Antimo

The abbey of Sant'Antimo
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