“Battle of Anghiari” and “Battle of Marciano”. Leonardo da Vinci and Giorgio Vasari


Copy of the “Battle of Anghiara” by Peter Paul Rubens (Louvre, Paris)
Prophet, il demon, il sorcerer,
Keeping an eternal riddle,
Oh Leonardo you are the harbinger
Of an unknown day.
See you sick children
Sick and dark ages
In the gloom of centuries to come
He is incomprehensible and harsh, –
Impassive to all earthly passions,
This will remain forever –
Despised gods, autocratic,
Godlike man.

Dmitry Merezhkovsky

Art and history. A series of articles about armor and weapons depicted on the canvases of the great masters caused a generally positive reaction from VO visitors, and many began to ask to tell about certain paintings that attracted their attention. But it doesn’t always work out. However, there are topics that simply cannot be ignored. This applies to some of the paintings belonging to the most prominent artists of the past. And today we will consider two of these at once: the painting by Leonardo da Vinci “Battle of Anghiari” and the creation of the painter and biographer of the great Leonardo Giorgio Vasari – the fresco “Battle of Marciano”.

Let’s start with the battles, since both of them are not very well known in our country, because these are “showdowns” between Italians that took place at the turn of the Middle Ages and the New Age, about which nothing was reported in our Russian history textbooks.

So let’s start with the first one. It was a battle between the armies of Milan and the Italian League, led by the Florentine Republic. It took place on June 29, 1440 near the city of Anghiari during the Lombard Wars and ended with the victory of the league’s troops. The second happened later, namely on August 2, 1554. It was the battle of the most recent of the many Italian wars that took place at Marciano della Chiana. Its consequence was the absorption of the Siena Republic by the Duchy of Florence.

On that day, the troops of the league were at Anghiari, a small town in Tuscany, and numbered four thousand troops of the papal throne, commanded by Cardinal Ludovico Trevisan, about the same number of Florentines and 300 Venetian horsemen under the leadership of Micheletto Attendolo. Some of the inhabitants of Anghiari also decided to perform under the banner of the Pope.

The army of the Duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti, commanded by the famous condottiere Niccolo Piccinino, approached the site of the battle a day earlier. Moreover, two thousand more men from the city of Sansepolcro, which lay nearby, joined the Milanese. Piccinino was confident that he had more troops than the enemy, and ordered an attack on him in the afternoon of the next day. But when the Milanese went from Sansepolcro to Anghiari, they raised so much dust on the road that Micheletto Attendolo noticed their advance and managed to bring the troops to a state of alert.

A canal blocked the way for the Milanese. But there was a bridge across it. However, the Venetian horsemen managed to approach him before the Milanese. They held back the enemy for some time, and, although the reinforcements of captains Francesco Piccinino and Astorre II Manfredi forced them to retreat, the papal troops managed to fully prepare for the battle during this time and even launch a retaliatory attack on the right flank of the Milanese. The battle was very stubborn and had been going on for four hours. However, this was only the visible part of this fight. The fact is that while all this was happening, part of the league’s troops were making a district maneuver in order to cut off a third of the Milanese army, which crossed the canal and left it behind. The Milanese did not notice this. As a result, although the battle lasted until night and even in the dark, the Milanese, despite their numerical superiority, lost the battle. The troops with the league folder won a complete victory.


“Battle of Marciano” by Giorgio Vasari, 1563 (Palazzo Vecchio Museum. Florence)

As for the Battle of Marciano, it all started here when in 1554 the Duke of Florence Cosimo Medici, with the support of Emperor Charles V, decided to oppose his last rival – the Siena Republic, which in turn received help from France, with which he fought Charles V. The Florentine army was commanded by Giangiacomo Medegino – “little Medici”, as he was called. Moreover, it included three buildings. The first is Federico Barbolani di Montauto, who had 800 soldiers (his target was the city of Grosseto), the second is Rodolfo Baglioni, who had 3000 soldiers (he was supposed to take Pienza), and the main forces under the command of Medegino himself, which included 4500 infantry, 20 cannons and 1200 sappers. The main attack was to be carried out against Siena and carried out from three directions.

The Sienese entrusted the defense of their hometown to General of the French Service Piero Strozzi. In the fighting on the side of the Sienese, French troops took part, as well as the Tuscans who broke away from the Medici.

Florentine troops approached Siena on the night of January 26, 1554. After the failure of the first attack, Giangiacomo Medici began a siege, although he did not have enough men to completely blockade the city. Baglioni and Montauto were unable to take Pienza and Grosseto, and French ships threatened the Florentine supply line passing through Piombino. In response, Cosimo hired Ascanio della Cornia with 6,000 infantry and 300 horsemen, and waited for the arrival of imperial reinforcements.

To ease the pressure of the enemy on Siena, Strozzi launched a sortie on June 11. Leaving part of the French troops in the city, he moved to Pontedera, which forced Medegino to lift the siege and follow him, which, however, did not prevent Strozzi from joining at Lucca with a French contingent of 3,500 infantry, 700 horsemen and four cannons. On June 21, Strozzi captured the town of Montecatini Terme, but did not dare to get involved in a battle with the Medici, but decided to wait for the approach of French reinforcements from Viareggio. Strozzi at that time had 9,500 infantrymen and about 1,200 horsemen, and the Medici had 2,000 Spanish, 3,000 German and 6,000 Italian infantrymen and 600 horsemen, while new reinforcements from Spain and Corsica were also moving to join him.

In the meantime, Strozzi returned to Siena, as the supply situation of the city became critical. It was not possible to take Piombino, so no help from the French came to the city. It was decided to leave the city and defeat the enemy in a field battle. In the next three days, the Sienese occupied several nearby towns and forced the enemy to gather all their forces for a general battle.

On August 1, Strozzi learned that the Imperial-Florentine troops had finally arrived and were preparing for battle. In the morning, the enemy troops lined up against each other as follows: 1000 Franco-Sienese cavalrymen stood on the right flank of the Sienese, 3000 Landsknechts formed the center, 3000 Swiss – a reserve that stood behind, and 3000 French were located on the left flank. In addition, there were 5,000 Italian infantrymen under the command of Paolo Orsini. The army was located on a gentle hill, which was convenient in all respects.

The Medici placed 1,200 light cavalry and 300 heavy cavalry on the left flank under the command of Marcantonio Colonna. In the center was the infantry: 2,000 Spanish veterans and 4,000 German landsknechts, commanded by Niccolò Madruzzo. The right flank was the strongest: 4,000 Florentine infantry, 2,000 Spaniards, and 3,000 Italians. However, these infantrymen did not differ in high combat qualities. Behind three rows of infantry stood artillery, which was supposed to fire over the heads of its soldiers. In reserve were another 200 Spanish veteran soldiers and another company of Neapolitan equestrian arquebusiers.


“Battle of Marciano” by G. Vasari without framing

The battle began with an attack by the Medici horsemen on the left flank. They scattered the Franco-Sienese cavalry who fled from the battlefield. In response, Strozzi attacked in the center. The Landsknechts quickly ran down the hill, but the Imperial artillery managed to inflict serious losses on them with their cannonballs. In turn, the Medici also moved the center forward, which caused panic in Strozzi’s troops. And then the Colonna’s heavy cavalry returned and attacked the German infantry from the rear. It ended with the whole center of the Sienese rushing to save themselves. And only the French infantry not only retained their order of battle, but, even being surrounded from all sides, fought to the end. Strozzi himself was wounded three times and was taken out of the battle by bodyguards. The battle itself lasted only two hours. The losses of the Sienese were very significant: 4,000 killed and 4,000 wounded or captured.

As for the paintings of interest to us, the “Battle of Anghiara” was supposed to be painted by Leonardo, recognized by that time, but the fresco on the opposite side of the “Battle of Cachin” was by young Michelangelo (27 years old). Both frescoes were commissioned by the Florentine Republic to decorate the Council Room of the Señoria Palace in Florence, in order to glorify their power for centuries. This was the goal of the customer, but both masters by this time experienced a keen sense of rivalry and, above all, wanted to prove to each other which of them was, so to speak, “first” in all respects. Their work was overseen by a third genius – Raphael, who at the time was 21 years old.


Another copy of the fresco by Leonardo by Rubens (Louvre, Paris)

For his ambitious painting, Leonardo used the encaustic technique (“heat fixation”), which he read about in Pliny’s book, and, alas, he suffered a severe setback. Yes, he drew a cardboard with a sketch of the fresco, and the Senoria commission approved it. Yes, both he and the cardboard of his “enemy” were exposed to the public and deserved everyone’s admiration. As conceived by the artist, this fresco was to become his most ambitious creation. Its dimensions were 6.6 by 17.4 meters, that is, it was three times the size of the Last Supper. And Leonardo very carefully prepared for its creation, studied the description of the battle and even designed special folding scaffolding that could raise and lower the painter to the required height. And he chose a very unusual plot. He showed not the whole battle with the masses of people and horses, but only one of its key episodes – the battle of several horsemen for the banner.

To be continued…

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