Military Art: Two very different views

The rulers of all countries have always been very keen to celebrate their victories; in fact battle scenes can be considered to be one of the oldest forms of art. The Battle of San Romano painted between 1438–40 by the Italian Paolo Uccello (1397–1475) is one of the earliest images of this genre. Uccello's painting of the battle of San Romano is his most famous and is made up of three separate paintings commemorating the battle between Florentines and Sienese in June 1432 at San Romano. The medium used is egg tempera with walnut oil and linseed oil on poplar with each panel over 3 feet long.The first panel, now housed in the National Gallery in London, portrays the beginning of hostilities, where Niccolò da Tolentino wearing his large gold and red patterned hat, is seen leading the Florentine cavalry.
Here is a close up showing the attention to detail.
The second painting in the series depicts the counterattack by Florence's ally Micheletto da Cotignola. This painting is now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.
The third painting is: Bernadino della Ciarda unhorsed and showing the end of the battle and the defeat of the Sienese. This painting is now in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence Collection.

Uccello is known for his pioneering work on visual perspective, an artistic skill we discussed many blogs back. Uccello was particularly interested in perfecting the vanishing point so as to gain depth in his paintings. If you study the first two images closely you can see that he is showing the diminishing size of the roads and people in the distance. If you are interested in identifying art styles, these paintings would be considered to be Early Renaissance. Uccello's message is all about the triumph and celebration of victory, the destruction of the enemy.

Another early war painting is The Surrender of Breda 1634–35 by the Spanish painter Diego Velázquez (1599–1660). The style I think would be called Spanish Baroque. It is remarkable in that the message conveyed by Velazquez is far from the glorious victory as illustrated above.
The surrender of Breda in 1625 is considered to be one of the major successes of the Spanish (under Phillip 11) during the Eighty Years' War with the Seventeen Provinces of what are today the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, as well as the French region of Hauts-de-France. The focus of the painting by Velazquez is not on the battle but on reconciliation as symbolised through the exchange of keys. History shows that the Spanish General Ambrogio Spinola had forbidden his troops to jeer at, or otherwise abuse the vanquished Dutch, and, according to a contemporary report, he himself saluted Justin of Nassau and the Dutch army. Diego Velázquez the artist has aimed to capture a moment of respect for a fellow warrior.

Tomorrow we will see yet another perspective on the narrative of a war as told by a group of women who spent years producing their work of art. Can you guess what we are about to uncover. Without a shadow of a doubt it is my favourite piece of war art and for years I had a copy decorating the walls of one of my rooms!

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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