Michelangelo Buonarroti vs Leonardo da VinciJuly 16, 2009
One hall, two opposite walls, two giants of Renaissance.
The Palazzo Vecchio (“Old Palace”, aka Palazzo della Signoria) is the town hall of Florence. Salone dei Cinquecento (“Hall of Five Hundred”) chamber was built in 1494 by Simone del Pollaiolo, on commission of Savonarola who left a lasting impression on Michelangelo. Even close to the end of his life, Michelangelo clearly recalled Savonarola’s voice.
Battle of Cascina
Copy painted by Michelangelo’s pupil Aristotele da Sangallo
Michelangelo’s study for the Battle of Cascina
The painting was commissioned from Michelangelo by Piero Soderini, statesman of the Republic of Florence. The Battle of Cascina was fought on 28 July 1364 between the troops of Florence and Pisa, resulting in victory of the former. A thousand Pisans were killed and two thousand more were captured.
Michelangelo never completed the painting, but did produce a complete cartoon of the composition. The cartoon was copied by several artists, the most notable extant copy being by Michelangelo’s pupil Sangallo. Michelangelo depicted a scene at the beginning of the battle when the Florentine army was initially taken by surprise when the Pisans attacked.
The painting was not completed because Michelangelo was invited back to Rome in 1505 by the newly appointed Pope Julius II and was commissioned to build the Pope’s tomb.
Julius II interrupted the project to great disappointment of Michelangelo. The original project called for a freestanding, three-level structure with some 40 statues. After the pope’s death in 1513, the scale of the project was reduced step-by-step until, in 1542, a final contract specified a simple wall tomb with fewer than one-third of the originally planned figures.
Battle of Anghiari
Peter Paul Rubens’s copy of The Battle of Anghiari.
Leonardo’s study for the Battle of Anghiari
In 1504 Leonardo da Vinci was given the commission by gonfaloniere Piero Soderini, a contract signed by no less than Niccolò Machiavelli, to decorate the Hall of Five Hundred.
Leonardo da Vinci drew his large cartoon in the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, depicting a scene from the life of Niccolò Piccinino, a condottieri in the service of duke Filippo Maria Visconti of Milan. He drew a scene of a violent clash of horses and a furious battle of men fighting for the flag in the Battle of Anghiari.
He began also to experiment with such a thick undercoat (possibly mingled with wax), that after he applied the colours, the paint began to drip. Trying to dry the painting in a hurry and save whatever he could, he hung large charcoal braziers close to the painting. Only the lower part could be saved in an intact state. But the upper part couldn’t dry fast enough and the colours intermingled. Leonardo then abandoned the project.
This was the only time that Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo worked together on the same project. Michelangelo’s and Leonardo’s unfinished paintings hung in the same room together for almost a decade (1505-1512). The cartoon of Michelangelo’s painting was cut in pieces by Bartolommeo Bandinelli out of jealousy in 1512. In the mid-16th century (1555-1572), the hall was enlarged and restructured by Vasari and his helpers, so that Grand Duke Cosimo I could hold his court in this chamber. During this transformation, famous (but unfinished) works were lost, including the “Battle of Cascina” by Michelangelo and the “Battle of Anghiari” by Leonardo da Vinci.