Renaissance Dissident

The Battle of San Romano

The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello

San Romano

The Art of War

A5 Format PDF, ideal for tablets and Kindle
171 pages, 73 illustrations and maps

ISBN 0-9541633-4-6

Price: €24.95

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Art isn’t just about pretty pictures...
Hidden within the symbolism and geometry of three of the most famous paintings of the Italian Renaissance, lies a story of war, murder and political intrigue. San Romano, The Art of War is a detective story about the three great battle paintings by the Florentine artist Paolo Uccello, now divided between three of the greatest art galleries in the world: the National Gallery in London, the Paris Louvre, and the Uffizi in Florence.

At dawn on the 1st of June 1432, two armies clashed in the Arno valley, close to the small town of San Romano. Some would have us believe that this was a mere skirmish, and even that the two forces somehow met purely by accident, but the truth is that this battle, a full-scale affair involving a total of around 14,000 infantry and cavalry, was the result of a carefully-planned pursuit by a master strategist and tactician, Niccolò da Tolentino, professional mercenary, and Captain General of the Florentine forces. It ended in a decisive victory for the Florentines, and for centuries it has been thought that this battle was the subject of the three ‘San Romano’ panels, and that they were commissioned by Cosimo il vecchio de’ Medici.

This book takes the reader into the world of the condottieri, the mercenary captains who fought the wars of the Italian states, and follows Tolentino and his private army on the days leading up to the battle, and right onto the battlefield itself on that fateful day. It enters a Florence that was creating an artistic revolution 600 years ago, even as it was fighting for its very existence against the ‘Old Enemy’ Milan, and all the while was split by internal power struggles that were also expressed in art. This was the birth of the Florentine Renaissance.

The Florentine Captain-General Niccolò da Tolentino, painting in the Duomo, Florence, by Andrea del Castagno, 1456.
The frescoes of the chapel in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi in Florence.
The bell tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, where Cosimo the Elder was held prisoner by the Albizzi regime after the Battle of San Romano.
The Coronation of the Virgin by Lorenzo Monaco in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
A wooden intarsia panel from the studiolo of Federico da Montefeltro in the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino.
A Flemish tapestry of Hercules Opening the Olympic Games in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow.
Photos from the book, credits from left to right/top to bottom: Niccolò da Tolentino, Captain General of the Florentine forces, Sailko (CC-BY-SA 3.0); the man wearing a dark-blue gown and mounted on the bay mule is Cosimo the Elder de’ Medici, financier of the war against Lucca, Siena and Milan, © 2013 Photo Scala; the bell tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, where Cosimo was imprisoned by the Albizzi regime after San Romano, © Chris Dobson; an example of art of the International Gothic style by Lorenzo Monaco, © 2013 Photo Scala; an intarsia panel from the Palazzo Ducale at Urbino, just like the ones originally mounted on the walls below the ‘San Romano’ panels, © 2013 Photo Scala; a mid-15th century Flemish tapestry - the ‘San Romano’ panels consciously evoke tapestries like these, © Glasgow Museums Collection.

San Romano, the Art of War examines the influences that informed the development of Uccello’s style, and how he used geometry and perspective to allow viewers to ‘read’ the panels. It looks at the thriving arms industry that supplied the condottieri with their armour and weapons, and the realism with which Uccello depicted not only the warriors themselves, but also their combat techniques, as laid out in military manuals, and shown in grisly detail. This attention to detail shows us that far from being some sort of stylised chivalric fantasy, these panels are brutally accurate depictions of Renaissance warfare, as waged by professionals.

The book goes on explain why documentary evidence recently uncovered in the archives of Florence tells us who actually commissioned the panels, and even changes their names. Finally, it identifies a mystery figure in the London panel, who turns out to be the unsung hero of the Battle of San Romano.

It is packed with colour illustrations of Florentine art, and readers will be able to follow in the footsteps of the characters within the pages, from the choking dust and noise of the battlefield, via the streets of Florence where the artists worked side-by-side with the armourers, to the great palazzi of their wealthy patrons: this is the art of war, in every sense.

Contents:
Introduction
1. War
The San Romano campaign and condottieri; the potentially lethal political struggle in Florence.
2. Art
Paolo Uccello and his world; his use of geometry and perspective; the creation of the ‘San Romano’ panels.
3. Arms
The Italian arms industry; the detailed depiction of arms, armour and battle in the paintings.
4. Fame
The layers of heraldry and symbolism in the paintings; who actually commissioned them; the identity of the mystery warrior.
Afterword
Appendix: The Armies

A composite 15th century Milanese armour, known as the ‘Avant’ Armour.
Men-at-arms from Niccolòs da Tolentin’s personal household at San Romano.
A mail shirt of the type worn beneath Italian plate armour in the 15th century.
The second panel of The Rout of Niccolò Piccinino by Paolo Uccello in the Louvre, Paris.
The coat of arms of the Bartolini Salimbeni family on their palazzo in Piazza Santa Trinita, Florence.
The first panel of The Rout of the Tower at San Romano by Paolo Uccello in the National Gallery, London.
Photos from the book, credits from left to right/top to bottom: Milanese armour similar to that worn at San Romano, © Glasgow Museums Collection; mounted men-at-arms of Tolentino’s personal household, © 2013 Photo Scala; a German mail shirt of the type worn beneath Italian plate armour, © Christie’s Images Limited 2001; mounted men-at-arms in the Paris panel whose crests are coded references to a family coat of arms, © 2013 Photo Scala; the coat of arms of the Bartolini Salimbeni family on their palazzo in Florence, © Chris Dobson; Niccolò da Tolentino at San Romano, with a charging warrior to his right who was previously unidentified, © 2013 Photo Scala.
© Chris Dobson 2022 | All rights reserved