|Terry Garcia of National Geographic (left), Leonardo project leader Maurizio Seracini (center) and Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi come together on the scaffolding next to the Vasari mural in Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. Photo by Dave Yoder|
The Battle of Anghiari (1505) is a lost painting by Leonardo da Vinci, at times referred to as “The Lost Leonardo”, which some commentators believe to be still hidden beneath one of the later frescoes in the Salone dei Cinquecento (Hall of the Five Hundred) in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. In March 2012, it was announced that a team led by Maurizio Seracini has found evidence that the painting still exists on a hidden inner wall behind a cavity, underneath a section of Vasari’s fresco in the chamber.
An engineer by training and now an expert in art diagnostics, Maurizio Seracini has been searching for “The Battle of Anghiari” for more than 30 years. The work commemorates the 1440 victory of the battle on the plain of Anghiari between Milan and the Italian League led by the Republic of Florence; da Vinci painted it in the Palazzo Vecchio’s Hall of the 500 (the town hall in Florence) in 1503. It was thought to have been destroyed when Giorgio Vasari remodeled the hall. Vasari had painted six new murals over the east and west walls of the hall. Now with an endoscope and various technologies, researchers have found evidence of what could be the painting hidden behind Vasari’s mural.
The central scene of The Battle of Anghiari depicted four men riding raging war horses engaged in a battle for possession of a standard, at the Battle of Anghiari in 1440.
Many preparatory studies by Leonardo still exist. The composition of the central section is best known through a drawing by Peter Paul Rubens in the Louvre, Paris. This work, dating from 1603 and known as The Battle of the Standard, was based on an engraving of 1553 by Lorenzo Zacchia, which was taken from the painting itself or possibly derived from a cartoon by Leonardo. The centerpiece of The Battle of Anghiari was greatly admired and numerous copies were made for decades. Rubens succeeded in portraying the fury, the intense emotions and the sense of power that were presumably present in the original painting. Similarities have been noted between this Battle of Anghiari and the Hippopotamus Hunt painted by Rubens in 1616.
Study of Two Warriors’ Heads for the Battle of Anghiari, Black chalk or charcoal, some traces of red chalk on paper, Height: 191 mm (7.52 in). Width: 188 mm (7.4 in), Museum of Budapest
In 1504 Leonardo da Vinci was given the commission by gonfaloniere Piero Soderini, a contract signed by Niccolò Machiavelli, to decorate the Hall of Five Hundred. At the same time his rival Michelangelo, who had just finished his David, was designated the opposite wall. This was the only time that Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo worked together on the same project. The painting of Michelangelo depicted an episode from the Battle of Cascina, when a group of bathing soldiers was surprised by the enemy. However Michelangelo did not stay in Florence long enough to complete the project. He was able to finish his cartoon, but only began the painting. He was invited back to Rome in 1505 by the newly appointed Pope Julius II and was commissioned to build the Pope’s tomb.
Leonardo da Vinci drew his large cartoon in the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, on the east wall, depicting a scene from the life of Niccolò Piccinino, a condottiere 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. Giorgio Vasari in his book Le Vite praised the magistral way Leonardo had put this scene on paper: “It would be impossible to express the inventiveness of Leonardo’s design for the soldiers’ uniforms, which he sketched in all their variety, or the crests of the helmets and other ornaments, not to mention the incredible skill he demonstrated in the shape and features of the horses, which Leonardo, better than any other master, created with their boldness, muscles and graceful beauty.”
Leonardo built an ingenious scaffold in the Hall of Five Hundred that could be raised or folded in the manner of an accordion. This painting was to be his largest and most substantial work. Since he had a bad experience with fresco painting (The Last Supper; refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan), he wanted to apply oil colours on the wall. 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. Michelangelo’s and Leonardo’s unfinished paintings adorned the same room together for almost a decade (1505–1512). However the cartoon of Michelangelo’s painting was cut in pieces by Bartolommeo Bandinelli out of jealousy in 1512.
During the mid-16th century (1555–1572), the hall was enlarged and restructured by Vasari and his helpers, on the instructions of Grand Duke Cosimo I; in order that the Duke could hold court in this important chamber of the palace. In the course of the renovations, the remnants of famous (but unfinished) artworks from the previous plan of decoration for the hall, were lost; including The Battle of Cascina by Michelangelo and The Battle of Anghiari by Leonardo da Vinci.
Peter Paul Rubens’ copy of the lost Battle of Anghiari by Leonardo da Vinci, 1603