The Anghiari Battle
A video by the Department of Architecture tells the story of Leonardo’s unfinished masterpiece
The history of the most famous unfinished work by Leonardo da Vinci, the Battle of Anghiari, is an episode that has aroused great interest in art historians and in the world of culture from the beginning and in particular from the 1960s, besides witnessing the great impact of the Tuscan genius on the artists of his time and beyond.
New light on this lost work, which should have represented in the Palazzo Vecchio the battle that the Florentines won against the Milanese at Anghiari in 1440, comes from a research project of the Department of Architecture (DIDA) of the University (2014–2016) by Emanuela Ferretti and co-financed by the Leonardiana Library in Vinci, whose results have recently merged into a video, an integral part of the special itinerary “On the traces of the Battle of Anghiari”, designed by the Municipal Museums and Cultural Activities Service on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death.
The audiovisual product — created by Dida under the supervision of Emanuela Ferretti, with the collaboration of the Multimedia Laboratory of the University — will be viewable by visitors of the Salone dei Cinquecento from 23 February 2019 until 12 January 2020. It was financed by the Municipality of Florence through a regional call, with the financial support of the Municipality of Vinci, where it will then be exhibited permanently in Leonardo’s Birth Home. The project had the patronage of the National Committee of Leonardo’s celebrations.
The video, entitled “The Battle of Anghiari by Leonardo da Vinci. History of an unfinished masterpiece “, testifies to the new acquisitions of the Unifi research that allowed for the first time to realize a 3D model of the Great Hall (the current Salone dei Cinquecento) at the time of Leonardo’s intervention (1503), i.e. before Vasari’s works (1563–1574) to which the present aspect is substantially due. The 3D model, created by Alessandro Merlo and Francesco Frullini of DIDA, allows, in fact, to understand the structure of the room, its furnishings and the layout of the doors. The architectural reconstruction of the Great Hall assumes particular importance as it has never been a central element in the research carried out of any traces of Leonardo’s work under the fresco by Giorgio Vasari depicting the Battle of Marciano, painted in the mid-sixteenth century in the same wall of the Hall.
“The studies at the origin of the video — explains Emanuela Ferretti, researcher of the History of architecture and project manager together with Serena Pini (City of Florence) — were presented in the conference La Sala Grande of Palazzo Vecchio and Leonardo’s paintings (Florence, 14–16 December 2016), by DIDA, in collaboration with the German Institute of Art History of Florence and the Leonardiana Library of the Municipality of Vinci “.
The film, with its informative cut and provided with a version in English as well, is the result of an iconographic research specially curated by Daniela Smalzi (DIDA) and it deals, among others, with the theme of the fragment’s memory: “Of Leonardo’s fresco, who began to paint the scene known as Lotta for the banner, there is not even the preparatory cardboard left — Ferretti recalls. The work was soon interrupted because the painting did not dry out, due to a defect in the experimental technique used. But there are copies that contemporary artists drew from the cardboard or the traces left on the wall, works — recalled from our video — that incorporate the extraordinary expressive power with which Leonardo conceived the representation of a battle.”
In the film we also make a point on the unsuccessful experimental technique used by Leonardo who probably did not want to make a fresco, but a real oil painting on the wall. Just as recent studies on another controversial point are taken into consideration, the inscription “Cerca Trova” (Seeker Finder) is present in one of the flags on the background of Vasari’s fresco, a sign that it would have been left — according to an interpretation that has established itself over time — by the artist from Arezzo to locate the remains of Leonardo’s unfinished painting under his own work. “The most recent reading, based on a careful reconsideration of sources, instead, indicates that it could be anything but — concludes Ferretti — a sarcastic and contemptuous call to the Dante verse “Libertà vo cercando che è si cara” (the freedom I am seeking that is so precious) that appeared on the flags of the anti-Medici Florentines, led by Bindo Altoviti, enemy of Cosimo I de’ Medici. In the battle of Marciano represented in the Vasari fresco the troops of the ‘escaped’ fought alongside the French against the troops of Cosimo I and were defeated.”