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La Bataille de San Romano : la contre-attaque de Micheletto da Cotignola.

© 1997 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Italian painting

Cécile Maisonneuve, Dominique Thiébaut

Like two other pictures held by the National Gallery in London and the Uffizi in Florence, this one recounts an episode in the victory of the Florentines over the Sienese on June 1, 1432 at San Romano, near Lucca in Italy. Recent research indicates that the cycle was not, as was long thought, commissioned by Cosmo de' Medici, but by Lionardo Bartolini Salimbeni, who played a major part in the opening of hostilities against Siena.

The counterattack by Micheletto da Cotignola

This painting was part of a group commemorating the battle between Florentines and Sienese in June 1432 at San Romano. Showing the counterattack by Florence's ally Micheletto da Cotignola, it presents the second episode in this historical cycle. The first panel, in the National Gallery in London, portrays the beginning of hostilities, with Niccolò da Tolentino leading the Florentine troops. The third, now in the Uffizi in Florence, shows the end of the battle and the defeat of the Sienese: Bernardino della Ciarda, leading the Sienese army, has been unhorsed.

The quest for movement and the representation of form

In the presentation of the counterattack, the description of the sequence of events is a pretext for a detailed breakdown of movement. On the right the stationary warriors await the assault, with one of them preparing his weapon. In the center Micheletto da Cotignola, his black horse rearing, gives the signal for the attack. The army begins to move and on the left the cavalry charges the enemy, lances held low in the attacking position. In this way Uccello successfully creates the illusion of an overall impetus orchestrated by the lances and the horses' hooves. Thus he brings unity to the seething mass of horsemen, infantry, crests, and standards.
For the painter this tangle seems to be an exercise in satisfying his obsession with representation of pure form according to the laws of optics. The main features are a host of foreshortenings and the presence of "mazzochi", Florentine hats whose different aspects the artist describes in minute detail. Unlike other painters of his time, Uccello does not use his extensive knowledge of perspective to place this scene in a clearly defined space: the battle is set against a relatively dark background further obscured by the passing of the years. Unfortunately we can no longer enjoy the full impact of the horsemen's gleaming armor, originally rendered with silver leaf that has since become tarnished.
Uccello's quasi-scientific fixations fascinated 20th-century artists, beginning with the Cubists. His endless play with form for its own sake, together with his quest for movement in painting, gave rise to much commentary, in which he was often seen as the choreographer of a strange ballet for automata and carousel horses.

Dating problems

The date of this major work by Paolo Uccello is uncertain and continues to be the subject of considerable debate. Critics now tend to agree that it was commissioned and executed not long after the death of Micheletto da Cotignola in 1435, a hypothesis that would seem to be confirmed by the style, close to that of the Monument to John Hawkwood painted by Uccello c. 1436, in the Duomo in Florence.
Apparently arch-shaped when first painted, the Louvre panel was doubtless filled in at its upper corners and lower left area when, between 1479 and 1486, the three battle scenes were requisitioned by Lorenzo de' Medici for his palace in Florence. They are described in an inventory of his bedroom taken in 1492.

Technical description

  • Paolo di DONO, dit UCCELLO (Florence, 1397 - Florence, 1475)

    La Bataille de San Romano : la contre-attaque de Micheletto da Cotignola.

    Vers 1435 - 1440?

  • H. : 1,82 m. ; L. : 3,17 m.

  • Ancienne collection Campana, Rome. Entré au Louvre en 1863 , 1863

    The counterattack by Micheletto da Cotignola

    M.I. 469

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Salon Carré
    Room 708

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