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This set of three paintings marks the greatest achievement by Florentine painter Paolo Uccello, depicting in supreme detail the 1432 Battle of San Romano between the armies of Florence and Siena.
This series of three is generally refered to as Uccello's Battle paintings and the clear attribution to this artist is one of the few elements of them that is not shrouded in confusion. For example, art historians continue to argue today over whether this series capture one or two battles and also whether or not alterations were made later on in order to adjust the overall shape of the pieces. Even the donor that commissioned them is unclear, as is when they placed this significant order.
The differences in composition between the three paintings have led many to question quite the sequence in which they were created, and whether they were intended as a set of three or as three individual pieces on a related theme. In this earlier period of the Renaissance it was rare for an artist to receive such a large commissioned project that was entirely unrelated to any religious themes, with religious institutions holding sway across most of Italian society at this time.
The most likely explanation as to the donor would have been a member of the Bartolini Salimbeni family at some point between 1435 and 1460. They were based in Florence during these years and were a particularly prominent family who held a strong interest in the arts. intriguingly, Lorenzo de' Medici went to great lengths shortly after this point in order to acquire them for himself and eventually possessed all three. They now reside in three of the finest collections in global art, namely at the the National Gallery in London, the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence and the Musée du Louvre in Paris.
With regards the battle depicted within these paintings, famous art historian Giorgio Vasari had studied these works whilst they were displayed at Gualfonda. He documented that they depicted the Battle of San Egidio of 1416 but more recent studies have placed them at the 1432 Battle at San Romano. This remains the most likely explanation. Herbert Horne in the very early 20th century put together much of what we now know about this series of work but he also mistakenly believed that the ownership of them by the Medicis during the 15th century was evidence enough that they were the initial donors. This now seems unlikely.
Evidence emerged that the shape of these paintings was not entirely suited to their display positions within the Medici's properties, which would not have been the case had they commissioned them themselves. Further research placed them under the ownership of Damiano and Andrea Bartolini and we now believe that their father Lionardo would have commissioned them and later handed them down through standard lines of inheritance.
It is likely that the Uffizi panel was intended as the central piece as it was signed, whilst the others were not. Additionally, they may represent different stages of the same eight-hour battle, covering dawn, mid-day and finishing with dusk. This remains yet another unconfirmed talking point surrounding this famous series of paintings. Upon completion, these works would have been brighter than they are today as various materials have oxidised and become much darker as a result. This includes touches of silver leaf to elements of the soldier's armour.
Niccolo Mauruzi da Tolentino at the Battle of San Romano
Niccolo Mauruzi da Tolentino unseats Bernardino della Ciarda at the Battle of San Romano
The Decisive Counterattack of Michelotto da Cotignola at the Battle of San Romano