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The depiction of ferocity as a condemnation of discord


1440, 29 June. Near the bridge crossing the Reglia dei Mulini,or mill race, on the straight road running below the walls of Anghiari in the direction of Borgo Sansepolcro, Milanese and Florentine knights fought a battle over the Visconti standard. The event was painted by the workshop of Apollonio di Giovanni c. 1450 and subsequently portrayed in its historical outlines by Leonardo da Vinci in his Battle of Anghiari painted between 1503 and 1506. The historic action of the day is immortalised in the pose of Niccolò Piccinino on horseback as he extends his right arm above his head to form an arc, a movement captured both by Apollonio and by Leonardo da Vinci. According to Florentine Commissar Neri Capponi, who took part in the battle, approximately seventy men lost their lives in the struggle, though much booty and many prisoners were taken. So it was not a battle in which only one man died, as Machiavelli alleges in his Istorie fiorentine.

Thanks to Leonardo da Vinci's work, this 15th century feat of arms involving Italian soldiers of fortune was to become the model for all depictions of embattled knights. Leonardo's battle became an archetype, including in moral terms, for portraying the raw undiluted violence of such scenes, as though seeking to condemn the "bestial madness" of discord.



On display