Paolo Uccello: Festivities, Battles, & New Perspectives

Who is Paolo Uccello? What is he known for? What can we learn from his work? Let’s find out! Read on to find out who Paolo is while taking a closer look at one of his masterpieces: The Battle of San Romano.

Meet Paolo!

Paolo Uccello Portrait
Portrait of Paolo Uccello, Detail from Florentine School, © The Art Archive/Musée du Louvre, Paris/Gianni Dagli Orti 

As an Italian Renaissance artist, Paolo Uccello’s (1397-1475) paintings are his legacy. Even the name we know him by is framed around his works. Originally named Paolo di Dono, Paolo gained the “Uccello” (meaning bird) nickname due to his paintings of birds! 

Training under the sculptor Ghiberti, Paolo Uccello had a style that combined the International Gothic style of decorative forms with linear perspective, the use of lines to create impressions of 3D space. You can most notably see this combination in Uccello’s The Battle of San Romano. This masterpiece consists of three panels which all depict the same skirmish. Today, you’ll find them across three locations: National Gallery, Louvre, and Le Gallerie Degli Uffizi. We’ll be specifically looking at the painting in the National Gallery. 

The History Behind the Painting

It’s June 1, 1432. The Florentines, led by Niccolò da Tolentino, are battling against the Sienese troops all in hopes of gaining access to the port of Pisa and ending a destructive war. Fortunately (for the Florentines at least), this battle ended in their victory.  

Lionardo Bartolini Salimbeni, a member in Florence’s Council of Ten, must have wanted to memorialize this glorious Florentine victory since he commissioned Uccello to create a painting depicting this battle in the 1440s.   

A Festive Battle?

Paolo Uccello, The Battle of San Romano, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite the horrid nature of actual battle, Uccello painted The Battle of San Romano as a celebration by adding festive decorations that mimic a chivalric Arthurian romance tapestry. 

Look at the painting. Do you notice the fancy plumage on the knights’ helmets? (Fun tidbit, the helmet plumage was only used in parades and jousting – not real battle!). The almost carousel-like horses? The fancy hat resting upon the brave leader Niccolò as he sits atop his gleaming white horse? Also, do you see the pretty roses, pomegranates, and oranges framing the combatants in the background? Yep! Even the horses and armor contained gold and silver leafing. All of these details embellish the battle making it glorious and honoring the Florentines.  

Finding Perspective

Still, Paolo Uccello’s interests also lay in linear perspective which, at the time, was a fairly recent discovery. Linear perspective creates the idea of depth on a flat surface. If you take a look at the objects laying around the combatants’ feet, you’ll see broken lances, shields, fallen helmets, and even a dead body! These objects create an almost grid-like pattern as Uccello began experimenting with position and proportion to create this 3D space illusion.

What’s Missing?

Unfortunately, Paolo Uccello’s paintings, worn with age, lack their original vibrancy. Many of the gold and silver trimmings have faded along with other brilliant colours. Also, the flesh tones on the characters have worn away. Most importantly, the paintings once had an arched top with hilltops and sky scenery. But, when Lorenzo de’ Medici came into their possession, the panels were reduced to rectangles and relocated. Can you imagine how magnificent all three panels must have looked together in their original condition? I sure can!

Did you learn something? Find something interesting about the painting that we didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments!  

Want more? You can check out Paolo Uccello’s paintings during our treasure hunts! We have a hunt at the Louvre you can book now, and two future hunts (yay!) at the National Gallery and Uffizi. So, stay tuned!



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