The Battle of San Romano
6’ x 10:5” (1.82 x 3.23 m)
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Paolo Uccello’s Battle of San Romano is divided into three panels, one at the National Gallery in London, one at the Lourve in Paris, and one, shown above, at the Uffizi. This panel was hidden at the Castello di Montegufoni along with Botticelli’s Primavera during the Second World War. The Tuscan hills in the background of the battlefield, divided into sections of fields, easily resemble the hills around Montefugoni, where Allied monuments officers stayed while they could not be billeted in Florence.
The campaign against the Sienese, which included this battle in 1432 was financed by Cosimo the Elder, and marked the beginning of Medici influence in Florence. It was a favorite of his grandson, Lorenzo the Magnificent, who had it hanging in his bedroom until his death.(Brey, 127-128) Uccello’s colorful and gallant depiction of war is rather removed from the experience of actual war, and it was especially removed from the devastating war raging in Italy during its stay at Montegufoni. Still, had the scene been more harrowing, no one in Uccello’s time could have possibly imagined the overwhelming destruction of modern warfare.
The scene is stylized and wooden, appearing to be more of a tournament than a battle. The broken lances fall in Albertian octagonals and the horses and men appear in profile or foreshortening, which makes them recede in depth or move forward toward the viewer. (Hartt, 265-266) The ornamental and logical nature of the painting can be attributed to Uccello’s obsession with perspective. Uccello was an eccentric and solitary man who kept himself up nights searching for the vanishing point of perspective. This obsession was something for which Vasari complains about his Lives. Even though the challenge of perspective was “ingenious and beautiful,” he thought Uccello wasted his time and turned his “fertile and effortless talent into one that is sterile and overworked.” (Vasari, 74-75)
The painting was eventually recovered from its deposit and returned to the Uffizi. Although Florence suffered less than many other places in Italy, the destruction wreaked upon the city, especially along Arno, was far more chaotic and far less beautiful than Paolo Uccello’s rendering of the Battle of San Romano.
• Brey, I.D. (2009). The Venus fixers: the remarkable story of the allied soldiers who saved Italy’s art during World War II. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
• Hartt, F, & Wilkins, D.G. (2009). History of Italian Renaissance art: painting, sculpture, architecture. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
• Vasari, G., Bondanella, J. C., & Bondanella, P. E. (1991). The lives of the artists. Oxford: Oxford University Press.