Art History:”Uccello:Battle of San Romano”

2 Oct

Uccello: ‘Battle of San Romano’

By Simon S. Sundaraj

Renaissance Art was a product of artist commission by patrons to portray an event that propelled the image of a noble family above other elites within a class structure. The Battle of San Romano painting was commission by the Bartolini Salimbeni family but so coveted by Lorenzo de’ Medici that he had them forcibly removed to the Medici palace at Florence. Paolo Uccello of Florence was the artist commission to paint the Battle of San Romano.

To understand the significant of Renaissance Art is first comprehend to importance of the Battle of Romano from a historical perspective. The Battle of Romano was fought in 1432 between the forces of Florence and Siena. The battle was solely fought by mercenaries hired by both opposing factions. The Florentine defeated Siena forces and ascended to the role of head city-state in the Tuscany region. In order to commemorate Florence victory a painting was commission by the ruling house of Florence by immortalizing the Battle of Romano in the eyes of its people and adversaries.

The Battle of San Romano is a triptych by the painter Paolo Uccello depicting events that took place at the Battle of San Romano in 1432 (for a long time these were wrongly entitled the “Battle of Sant’ Egidio of 1416”). It consists of the three paintings which would immortalize Uccello in the annals of military art history. The first consist of Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino at the Battle of San Romano (probably about 1438-1440), egg tempera with walnut oil and linseed oil on poplar and housed at the National Gallery in London. Second was the depiction of Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino unseats Bernardino Della Ciarda at the Battle of San Romano (dating uncertain, about 1435 to 1455), tempera on wood, and housed at the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Lastly, the Counterattack of Michelotto da Cotignola at the Battle of San Romano (about 1455), wood panel, and housed at Musée du Louvre in Paris.

Paolo Uccello (Pablo di Dono) was born in 1347 to the city of Florence. Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artist mentioned about Paolo Uccello obsession in perspective and would stay up all night in his study trying to grasp the exact vanishing point. Uccello was noted for his exponent of visual perspective in art. He used perspective in order to create a mood of intensity in his art and not, as his contemporaries, to describe diverse or subsequent stories. Paolo worked in the Late Gothic tradition, and emphasized color, tone, and pageantry rather than the Classical realism that other artists were pioneering. His style is best described as idiosyncratic, and he left no school of followers. He had some influence on twentieth century art and literary criticism.

Uccello began his artistic career by being under the apprenticeship of Lorenzo Ghiberti who was a renowned sculpture. It was at Ghiberti’s workshop where Uccello began a lifelong friendship with Donatello. Ghiberti would have a great influence on him by his late-Gothic, narrative style and sculptural composition. In 1415 Uccello was admitted to the painters’ guild Compagnia di San Lucca. By 1424 he was earning his own living as a painter. In that year he painted Creation and expulsion in the church Santa Maria Novella in Florence, proving his artistic maturity. Around this time he was taught geometry by Manetti. He would continue to paint for patrons across the Italian peninsula till his death in 1475.

The everlasting legacy that Uccello left the Renaissance world was his precise, analytical mind he tried to apply a scientific method to depict objects in three-dimensional space. In particular, some of his studies of the perspective foreshortening of the torus are preserved, and he realized the thus acquired insights in his paintings in form of the mazzocchio. The perspective in his paintings has influenced famous painters such as Piero Della Francesca, Albrecht Dürer and Leonardo da Vinci, to name a few. His daughter Antonia Uccello (1446-1491) was a Carmelite nun, whom Giorgio Vasari called “a daughter who knew how to draw”. She was even noted as a “pittoressa”, a paintress, on her death certificate. Her style and her skill remain as mystery as none of her work is in existence.

The three panels depicting the Battle of San Romano could be considered fro private ‘consumption’ when it was housed by the Salimbeni family because it was to demonstrate the class status among nobles. Later it became a semi public art due to the fact that the Medici tends to have open door events for the public from time to time. It was to develop a political image of popularity among fellow Florentine. If the paintings were viewed privately then it was to create a sense of superiority and envy among fellow nobles. The paintings became public from time to time it demonstrated the commoner that the Medici was a strong noble house that carried the light Florence with honor.

Uccello audience was not for the people but for the patrons that commission him to paint for them. It was the patrons who decided whether he or she wanted the paintings to be viewed private or publicly. As stated earlier Uccello painting was ground breaking due to the perspective he place in his paintings by emphasizing on depth and the story it was portraying. He was revolutionary due to the fact he was taking a Gothic approach while other of his peers were concentrating on the Classic realism approach to art. The convention he was employing was to depict the image as real as possible by emphasizing on the perception of an individual which would place a person on the scene of the battle. It also centered on a key figure or hero which he audience could be familiar or related to in order to touch the emotional aspect of that particular event.

The Medicis was looking to legitimate their hold on Florence by portraying they cultural and military prowess through Uccello paintings. Indirectly, the Medicis immortalize their legacy by obtaining the numerous images, sculptures, and architectures around Florence which continued to survive till this present day in age. The direct message that the Medicis send to their rivals and the people of Florence was that they were in charge of the political, cultural, and military aspect of the city-state.

Personally, I do not believe that Uccello wanted to touch the emotional aspect of the viewer but he was experimenting with a new approach in painting. He pioneered a scientific method that would create the expression of depth which aided to the emotional package when viewed by the audience. Uccello was a pioneer that created a new way in portraying battle art and inspired generations of artist to follow in his footsteps. The unfortunate part of Uccello tale was that he did not have a school to call is own and it took numerous years to rediscover his techniques in developing a viable painting of a battle.


Man and his Art. Vol. 1: War and Peace, chapters 11-12

Vasari, Giorgio. Lives of the Artist

Paret, chapter 2, pp. 20-26

Hale, chapter 6, pp. 154-155

Starn, Randolph and Loren Partridge, ‘Representing war in the Renaissance: The shield of Paolo Uccello’, Representations, No. 5 (Winter 1984), 33-65


5 Responses to “Art History:”Uccello:Battle of San Romano””

  1. Catherine October 2, 2012 at 16:21 #

    Reblogged this on Art History Ramblings.

  2. coastalmom October 3, 2012 at 15:53 #

    You are making me learn! I love it. All of a sudden I want to know about History because of you! Thank you!

  3. jessmittens October 4, 2012 at 09:24 #

    My absolute favourite subject at school was Renaissance Italy, so thanks for this post!

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