Paolo Uccello

Paolo Uccello
Paolo Uccello. Unknown author. Portrait of Paolo Uccello, early 16th century

Paolo Uccello

The history of mankind can easily be imagined as a series of various battles. Many people have forgotten, but some entered the chronicles: some due to the importance and political consequences for the fighting parties, others due to the number of victims, and still others due to the courage of the soldiers shown on the battlefield. But, probably, only the only battle in the valley of the Arno River – the battle of San Romano in 1432 – remained in world culture and people’s memory thanks to the artist who dedicated his painting to him.

Paolo Uccello, the original Florentine painter of the Early Renaissance, in his art was an ardent adherent of spatial constructions. The artist is a researcher, he experimented a lot and boldly with the recently discovered laws of linear perspective, setting himself complex visual problems and demonstrating their solution with obvious pleasure; Uccello’s particular attention was drawn to unusual angles.

Paolo Uccello. Stained Glass Christmas, 1443.
Paolo Uccello. Stained Glass Christmas, 1443.

On Sunday afternoon, July 1, 1432, a fierce battle broke out in the valley of the Arno River near Florence. The troops of Florence and the combined forces of Siena and Milan met on the battlefield. The battle lasted all day. The earth trembled under the riders in heavy armor, the dust rose to the heavens. One by one, the victims of this massacre fell to the ground.

By evening, the whole field was strewn with the corpses of people and horses. It was, in general, quite an ordinary battle – there are a lot of them in the history of medieval Italy. And, of course, he would have been forgotten if not for the great Paolo Uccello, whose painting “The Battle of San Romano” forever glorified this battle and its heroes. In the work of Uccello, all the achievements of painting of that era are concentrated: mastery of color and light, expressiveness of colors and, most importantly, the composition is made taking into account the laws of perspective, which was then perceived as a kind of magic, as a real miracle.

Paolo Uccello. Hunting in the forest, 1470
Paolo Uccello. Hunting in the forest, 1470

The picture amazes with its exquisite decorativeness and fantasticness. As the art historian A.V. Stepanov notes, here the space does not deepen (there are no middle plans), but flattens, volumetric figures and empty space become equivalent, which creates the impression of a mosaic. Uccello, endowed with a magnificent gift of colorist, uses color, not following believability, but based on a decorative effect. It is not surprising that his “extravagant” painting was appreciated only at the beginning of the 20th century.

This early Renaissance masterpiece had a difficult fate. Created by order of a wealthy Florentine, she became the victim of a cruel crime – a cynical robbery. In the 15th century it was considered an undoubted masterpiece, in the 19th century it was ridiculed, and only in the 20th century it received worldwide recognition.

Saint George and the Dragon, 1460
Paolo Uccello. Saint George and the Dragon, 1460

The first half of the 15th century was a bright period in the history of the Florentine Republic, a time of conflicts, often armed, and alliances that did not always turn out to be strong and long. So, in the early 30s, Florence fought with the rich city of Lucca, which was suddenly supported by Florence’s neighbor Siena, and Siena – Milan. In Florence, the war was directed by the Council of War, the Council of Ten. In early June, the troops of Florence moved on the enemy. The decisive battle took place near the town of San Romano on July 1, 1432. At the head of the Florentine army was the Condottiere Niccolò da Tolentino.

In those days, the Florentines, and the rulers of other Italian cities, often hired experienced military leaders, condottieri (condot – contract). The life of these brave adventurers was not easy – they had to be able to navigate in a constantly changing political situation, and sometimes they had to fear not only enemies, but also their masters, and therefore they often changed them. Sometimes, when such a condottiere gained too much popularity among the troops, his employers killed him without any regret, everything was used – from a dagger to poison. The fate of the hero of the battle at San Romano Niccolò da Tolentino was just as tragic. In 1434 he was captured and died. They said that the brave condottiere was poisoned.

Fresco Clock with four prophets-evangelists, 1443
Paolo Uccello. Fresco Clock with four prophets-evangelists, 1443

Three of the most famous condottiers of those years participated in the battle of San Romano – Niccolò da Tolentino, Micheletto da Cotignola and Bernardino della Carda. The latter at this time was in the service of the Duke of Milan and sided with the Sienese. By the way, before taking the lead in the Milanese army, della Carda managed to serve Florence.

Condottieri were flamboyant, truly Renaissance personalities. Many of them were not distinguished by their nobility. For example, the famous Florentine condottiere John Hawkwood, whose portrait Uccello left us, came from a family of a simple artisan, tanner. The life of these “soldiers of fortune” was an endless series of temptations and dangers, but in spite of everything, many of them were distinguished by valor and nobility. It is not for nothing that monuments were erected to them in the squares of Italian cities, and cathedrals were decorated with frescoes with their portraits.

Portrait of a young man, 1431-1436
Paolo Uccello. Portrait of a young man, 1431-1436
Like this post? Please share to your friends: