UccelloHis name was Pagolo (or Paolo) di Dono. Vasari says that he was called Uccello from his love of painting animals, especially birds; but his nickname might rather have originated from his bird-like qualities or appearance, or from his mother's surname (which is similar to the Tuscan word for 'peck'). He was born in 1396 or, more probably, 1397. His father, Dono di Paolo, was a barber-surgeon from Pratovecchio, a small town east of Florence, who had settled in Florence and gained citizenship in 1373. His mother, one Antonia di Giovanni Castello del Beccuto, who had married his father in 1387, was from a wealthy Florentine family. Uccello trained under Lorenzo Ghiberti in the workshop where the sculptor’s first bronze door for the Florentine Baptistery was being made. His name appears twice in a list, drawn up without dates, of Ghiberti’s assistants – first as an apprentice-boy on the lowest wage of 5 florins a year and then as a young journeyman on 25 florins. He probably became an independent master in 1414 (when he joined the Compagnia di San Luca as a painter) or 1415 (when he was admitted to the guild of the Medici e Speziali), but no certain works have survived from the first fifteen years of his career.
Uccello worked mainly but not exclusively in Florence. From 1425 until about 1430, he was in Venice, where he executed a St Peter in mosaic (now lost) for the façade of St Mark’s. Uccello’s earliest surviving documented work, painted in 1436 when he was already some forty years of age, is the famous monumental equestrian fresco of Sir John Hawkwood in Florence Cathedral. Vasari records a visit to Padua when Donatello was working there (1443-53), and his cycle of giant monochrome figures in the Casa dei Vitaliani is said to have influenced Mantegna, but are also now lost. He visited Urbino as an old man in 1465-68. In a tax return of August 1468 he complained: ‘I am old, infirm and unemployed, and my wife is ill.’ He died on 10 December 1475, and was buried in his father’s grave at Santo Spirito. His son Donato (b. 1451/2) and daughter Antonia (1456-91), a Carmelite nun, were also painters. There are no authenticated works by either, though speculative attributions have sometimes been made.
Uccello is portrayed by Vasari as an eccentric (‘shy … solitary, strange, melancholy and poor’), obsessed with the study of perspective. His few certain surviving works confirm a fascination with the mathematics of representing space and problems of foreshortening. The grave and powerful Chiostro Verde frescoes of the Drunkenness of Noah and the Flood are often considered his greatest achievement. His panel paintings are often highly decorative, with an International Gothic emphasis on line, pattern and colour. Pictures such as the three famous battle scenes in Florence, London and Paris, the Urbino predella and Oxford Hunt have a delightful fairytale quality. There are a dozen or so disputed pictures, which were once commonly ascribed to unidentified followers (the ‘Prato Master’ and the ‘Karlsruhe Master’) but are now generally accepted as early works of Uccello himself.
Allentown (Pennsylvania). Museum of Art.
Madonna and Child with St Francis. Wood, 60 x 45.
The Virgin is crowned Queen of Heaven by two angels in flight. The Child is seated, nearly in profile, on a cushion on her knee. St Francis kneels in prayer with his hands, bearing the stigmata, crossed on his chest. Somewhat worn – especially the flesh parts. The picture was acquired by Kress from the dealer Contini Bonacossi in 1935 and allotted to the Allentown Museum in 1960. Nothing is known of its previous provenance. An attribution to Uccello was apparently first published in 1946 (by the Tuscan historian and politician Carlo Ragghianti). It has been accepted by some critics, usually as an early work, while others have seen the hand of some close follower or assistant of Uccello. The dozen published opinions listed by Hudson (2008) are about equally divided. Hudson, himself, considers the painting a studio work, executed by an assistant from the master's design. It was included, as an early work of Uccello, in the exhibition Da Donatello a Lippi held at Prato in 2013-14.
Bologna. San Martino Maggiore.
Adoration of the Child. Detached fresco, 350 x 237.
This very fragmentary fresco – damaged in the early 1960s when heating was installed in the sacristy – was freed from whitewash in the late 1970s, detached and transferred to the first chapel on the left of the church. It was published as a work of Uccello in 1980 (by Carlo Volpe in Paragone). Two sections of the fresco survive. The upper fragment shows the roof of the stable, with a crescent moon in the night sky and tiny figures of the Three Magi standing on a distant hill. The lower fragment shows the Christ Child, lying naked on the ground, watched over by an ox and ass tethered to a pole and adored by the (largely headless) robed kneeling figures of Mary, Joseph and donors. The fresco is inscribed with a date that can be read as 1431 or 1437. Undocumented: the attribution is based on stylistic affinities with other attributed early works, such as the Prato frescoes, the Dublin Madonna and Karlsruhe Adoration.
Boston. Gardner Museum.
Portrait of a Lady. Wood, 44 x 32.
The young lady's head and upper body are silhouetted against a blue background (which has darkened with time). She wears a white cap (cuffia) adorned with pearls over her (dyed) blonde hair and a pearl choker with jewelled pendant. The blue dress and embroidered crimson sleeve are damaged and restored. The sitter's beaky profile and long neck are features often found in Uccello's woman (eg. the princess in the National Gallery's Saint George). This charming portrait was probably painted in Florence in the 1450s or 1460s. It was purchased for $70,000 by Mrs Gardner in 1914 from an American dealer as a work of Domenico Veneziano. The attribution to Uccello was made in 1930 by Lionello Venturi (L'Arte). It was accepted by Philip Hendy in his museum catalogues of 1931 and 1974, and has been retained by the museum. It was rejected in the monographs by Pope-Hennessy (1969), Borsi and Borsi (1994) and Hudson (2005), but supported by Laurence Kanter in an article ('The 'cose piccole' of Paolo Uccello') in the August 2000 Apollo Magazine. The most favoured alternative attribution (proposed by Richard Offner in 1933) is to the 'Master of the Castello Nativity' (named by Berenson after a painting from the Medici Villa at Castello and now in the Accademia at Florence). A female profile portrait in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, is often considered to be by the same hand.
Chambéry. Musée des Beaux-Arts.
Portrait of a Young Man. Wood, 47 x 36.
The meaning of the Latin inscription ‘EL FIN FA TUTTO’ (literally 'the end makes all') on the simulated stone parapet is unclear. The picture is one of the better preserved of the half-dozen or so surviving early Florentine male profile portraits, and it is the one to which Uccello’s name has been most commonly attached. It entered the museum from the collection of Baron Hector Garriod (died 1883). The attribution to Uccello was first made in 1927 by Roberto Longhi. Although Berenson (1932) proposed an alternative attribution to Masaccio, Uccello was favoured in much of the subsequent literature (including Pope-Hennessy's 1969 monograph, which accepted comparatively few works as Uccello's). An attribution to Domenico Veneziano was tentatively introduced by Enzo Carlì in his 1959 Italian monograph; it was robustly supported more recently by Miklòs Boskovits (in the July-August 1997 issue of the journal Arte Cristiana), and it seems to be the attribution currently most favoured. It has now been adopted by the museum. The picture was stolen in 1999 but quickly recovered.
Dublin. National Gallery of Ireland.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 58 x 37.
As in many Florentine paintings and sculptures of the second quarter of the fifteenth century, the Madonna is shown half-length in front of a scallop shell. Her fair hair and fashionable headdress, shoulders and right arm were formerly concealed by an over-painted dark blue cowl. The repaint was removed in 1968 by conservators from the Instituto Centrale del Restauro di Roma, who were invited to Dublin to restore a number of works in the gallery. Traces of the false cowl can still be seen – a shadow on the wall behind the Virgin. The picture is remarkable for the boldly naturalistic representation of the large (and rather ugly) Child, who crawls playfully across the parapet, his knee and foot extending over its edge. The panel is first recorded only in 1899, when it appeared at a public sale held in London of works from the collection of the leading Florentine art dealer Stefano Bardini. It was then attributed to Lorentino d’Andrea (Lorentino d'Arezzo), a minor follower of Piero della Francesca. The Dublin gallery acquired the picture in 1909 from the English art historian and dealer Robert Langton Douglas. That same year, the painting was shown as a work of Lorentino d'Arezzo at an exhibition of Umbrian art held at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in London. The exhibition was reviewed by Roger Fry, who postulated a Florentine origin for the picture. A specific attribution to Uccello, as an early work, was first proposed in 1936 (by Georg Pudelko in Art in America). The attribution was rejected by Pope Hennessy (1969), who gave the picture to the ‘Prato Master’ (who takes his name from the disputed frescoes in Prato Cathedral), but has been generally accepted by recent writers (eg. Franco and Stefano Borsi in their 1994 monograph on Uccello and Hugh Hudson in his 2008 monograph). The Virgin's head and face are much restored, and the Child's right cheek is retouched.
*Battle of San Romano ('The Unhorsing of Bernardo della Ciarda'). Wood, 182 x 323.
Signed on a cartellino in the lower left corner. The painting shows the unhorsing of the Sienese commander, Bernardino della Ciarda, and the Sienese in retreat. Panels in the Louvre and National Gallery, London, illustrate other incidents in the battle at Torre di San Romano on 1 June 1432, when a Florentine mercenary force led by Niccolò da Tolentino defeated a Sienese one allied to Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan. The three panels (none of which is in good condition) used to be identified (eg by Crowe and Cavalcaselle) as three out of four battle-pieces by Uccello mentioned by Vasari in the garden at Florence of the Bartolini family. In 1901 Herbert Horne established that they came from the Palazzo Medici, where they are recorded in the Camera di Lorenzo in an inventory of 1492. Until recently, it was assumed that they had been commissioned by Cosimo il Vecchio. But in 2000 Francesco Caglioti established that they had previously belonged to the Bartolini Salimbeni family (whose palazzo was on the corner of Via Porta Rossa and Via Monaldo) and that they had been appropriated around 1484 by Lorenzo de’Medici. They have been dated between 1435 and 1460, but recent opinion tends to favour the earlier end of this wide range. It is possible that they were painted in about 1438, when Lionardo di Bartolomeo Bartolini Salimbeni (who had been a staunch supporter of the military campaign against Visconti’s Milan and its allies) married his second wife.
All three panels were originally arched to fit under a vaulted ceiling, with corners cut irregularly to fit around corbels. It was probably when they were adapted for the Camera di Lorenzo that the tops were cut horizontally and the corners filled in. The Uffizi panel reached the gallery between 1767 and 1784. It is the best preserved of the three paintings in the cycle (though it appears to have been harshly cleaned in the nineteenth century, perhaps using caustic soda). Removal of overpainting in 1954 brought to light the little figures in the upper landscape (including the tiny group of peasants with jugs on the left). A thorough restoration in 2012 further clarified the background detail and revealed more of Uccello's original clear, vivid colour.
A Female Saint with Two Children. Wood, 79 x 35.
The nun-saint, who holds a rosary, has been variously identified as Scholastica (sister of Benedict), Monica (mother of Augustine), Felicitas (a noble Roman widow who witnessed the martyrdom of her seven sons) and the Blessed Villana delle Botti (a fourteenth-century Dominican penitent, whose tomb by Bernardo Rossellini is in Santa Maria Novella). Probably a fragment from the right side of an altarpiece. Its attribution has tended to follow that of the Prato frescoes. Published in 1928 (by Roberto Longhi) as a work of Giovanni di Francesco (an obscure Florentine painter, once called the ‘Carrand Master’ after a triptych bequeathed to the City of Florence in 1888 with the Carrand collection and now in the Bargello Museum). Later commonly ascribed to the ‘Prato Master’. But now more generally accepted as an early work of Uccello (early or mid-1430s?). Formerly in the Contini-Bonacossi collection: it was not included among the pictures from that collection bequeathed to the Florentine Galleries in 1969, but was acquired on the art market in 2001.
Nativity. Frescoed lunette (140 x 215) and sinopia.
Painted in terra verde. Now so damaged that it is almost undecipherable, it is not usually exhibited. It occupied a lunette over a door in a corner of the cloister of the Spedale di San Martino alla Scala (formerly the pilgrims hospice of Santa Maria della Scala). Undocumented, it was attributed to Uccello in 1934 (by Walter Paatz in Rivista d'Arte). It deteriorated so rapidly after its discovery that it was detached from the wall in 1952.
The remarkable sinopia was initially left in place and covered with whitewash, but was uncovered again and detached in 1958. It establishes only the perspective for the composition (with lines converging to two vanishing points on the same horizon line) and entirely omits the figures, architecture and landscape.
Sir John Hawkwood. Paper, 46 x 33.
The drawing (executed in silverpoint on light green paper, with a terracotta red background) corresponds precisely with the fresco in Florence Cathedral. It is possibly the 'modello o disegnio' (model or design) that Uccello was contracted to present to the Opera del Duomo in 1433, prior to his execution of the fresco three years later. It is the earliest known example of a drawing squared for transfer.
Scenes from Monastic Legends. Canvas, 81 x 110.
Sometimes (incorrectly) called the Thebaïd. Lower left, the Virgin appears to St Bernard; upper left, flagellants kneel before the crucifixion; upper middle, St Francis receives the Stigmata and, below, St Jerome prays before a crucifix; and lower right, St Romuald (or St Benedict) preaches a sermon from a pulpit. The canvas (a most unusual support for a Florentine painting of this date) appears to have been cut on all sides and its original dimensions are uncertain. Sometimes attributed to Uccello himself and sometimes to a follower called the ‘Karlsruhe Master’ (whom Padoa Rizzo (1991) believes may have been one of Uccello’s children). From the Vallombrosan convent (closed in 1810) of San Giorgio alla Costa. It was possibly painted either for the Buca di San Girolamo della Notte (a lay fraternity that met in some rooms of the convent) or for San Girolamo e San Francesco sulla Costa (a nunnery situated next to the convent).
Florence. San Marco Museum.
Virgin and Child. Detached fresco, 57 x 100.
This very damaged frescoed lunette was discovered in the museum’s store rooms in 1969 and attributed to Uccello by the Florentine poet, art historian and literary critic Alessandro Parronchi. According to a note attached to the back, it came from ‘a house of the Del Beccuto’. The Del Beccuto’s palazzo was in Via Del Beccuto, opposite Santa Maria Maggiore; it was demolished when the centre of Florence was redeveloped in the nineteenth century. Uccello’s mother was a Del Beccuto. It has been suggested that the fresco could date from 1431-33, when (according to Uccello’s tax returns) the artist was owed money by a Deo di Deo del Beccuto. The lunette was probably located over a door.
Predella. Wood, 22 x 177.
The Man of Sorrows in the centre with the Virgin and St John the Evangelist in small medallions at the sides. Gold ground. The predella of an altarpiece from the oratory of Santissima Annunziata at Avane in Valdarno, where it is recorded in the late seventeenth century. The main panel was stolen in the nineteenth century. An inscription gives the date (23 September 1452) and the name of the patron (Antonio di Pietro di Giovanni del Golia). Very damaged: restoration in the late 1960s exposed serious paint losses. One of a group of pictures attributed by Pope-Hennessy to the ‘Prato Master’, but now more widely accepted as by Uccello himself. Formerly in storage, the panel was transferred to the San Marco Museum in 1983.
Florence. Museo Diocesano di Castello.
Predella. Wood, 20 x 178.
On the left: St John on Patmos; in the centre: the Adoration of the Magi; and on the right: the kneeling SS. James and Ansanius (holding a heart). First recorded in 1908 over an altar table in the church of San Bartolomeo at Quarate (near Bagno a Ripoli in the south-eastern suburbs of Florence). Damaged by abrasion and worm infestation. Nothing is known of the altarpiece (or reliquary or ciborium) to which the predella belonged. Often attributed at one time to the ‘Karlsruhe Master’ or ‘Prato Master’; accepted as a work of Uccello by most recent scholars (but with little agreement on dating).
*Sir John Hawkwood. Fresco (transferred to canvas), 820 x 515.
Sir John Hawkwood (known as Giovanni Acuto in Italy) was an Essex-born condottiere who, after fighting in France in the Hundred Years War, commanded a company of mercenaries in Italy. After serving under many banners (Monferrato, Pisa, Perugia, Milan and the Papacy) and changing sides many times, he fought in the service of Florence from 1377 until his death in 1394. He was initially buried in the choir of the Cathedral. Plans to mark his tomb with a marble monument were dropped after Richard II requested the transfer of Hawkwood's remains to England, and a fresco was commissioned instead. The original fresco was painted in 1395-96 by Agnolo Gaddi and Giuliano d'Arrigo (known as Pesello).
Some forty years later, on 30 May 1436, Uccello was commissioned to paint a replacement fresco in terra verde. Uccello's first attempt did not meet with approval, and on 28 June he was instructed by the Opera of the Duomo to efface the horse and rider he had painted and execute them again. It is not known why Uccello's first painting was rejected. There could have been a defect in the ground. Another theory is that the horse and rider, like the sarcophagus on which they stand, were originally drawn as though seen from below, and the cathedral officials objected to such radical foreshortening. (Shown in consistent perspective, Hawkwood's face would have been less visible, the horse and rider would have seemed 'distorted', and the horse's hooves would have been hidden by the base of the sarcophagus.)
By 31 August 1436 the fresco was finished. The companion fresco of Niccolò da Tolentino was painted by Castagno in 1856. The frescoes were restored by Lorenzo di Credi in 1524, when the decorative borders were probably added. In 1842, the two frescoes were removed from the wall and transferred to canvas. (The transfers were carried out by the Emilian restorer Giovanni Rizzoli using the new strappo technique, which involved removing the paint layer alone by gluing a canvas onto the surface of the paint, peeling the paint off, and then reattaching it to a new canvas support.) The frescoes were restored in 2000 and again in 2022. A squared silverpoint drawing for Uccello’s fresco – possibly that shown by the artist to the Opera of the Duomo at the start of the commission – is preserved in the Uffizi.
Clock-Face. Fresco, 583 x 583.
Vasari, after describing the fresco of Sir John Hawkwood, states that ‘at that time Uccello painted in colour the clock-face over the principal doorway of the same church, with four heads at the corners coloured in fresco’. In fact the clock-face was painted seven years after the Hawkwood: documents show that Uccello received payments for the work on 22 February and 2 April 1443. The four heads have been called Prophets or Evangelists, but there is no certainty that either Prophets or Evangelists are intended. The clock was given a modern (twelve-hour) face in the eighteenth century, but the original (twenty-four hour) face was recovered in a restoration in the 1960s. The clock mechanism was designed by Angelo Niccolai degli Orologi. It has been restored several times – most recently in 2014.
Stained glass windows: the Nativity and the Resurrection. 470 in dia.
In 1443-44 Uccello made cartoons for four of the eight circular windows in the drum of the cupola, representing the Ascension, the Resurrection, the Nativity and the Annunciation. The cartoon for the Ascension seems to have been rejected in favour of one by Ghiberti, and the window of the Annunciation was destroyed by lightning and removed in 1828. The windows of the Nativity and the Resurrection survive. They were executed respectively by the glass-painters Angelo di Lippo and Bernardo di Francesco.
Florence. Santa Maria Novella. Chiostro Verde.
**Old Testament Scenes. Frescoes.
The frescoes, now very damaged, are executed largely in green earth (terra verde), which gives the cloister its name. (Ochre was also used.) Vasari describes the frescoes in detail, placing them immediately before the Hawkwood of 1436.
Modern critics usually agree that the Creation of Adam and the Creation of the Animals (lunette, 210 x 452) and the Creation and Temptation of Eve (244 x 478) are early works (painted either shortly before or shortly after the Venetian sojourn of 1425-30). The composition of the Creation of Adam is very like (in reverse) Ghiberti’s for the Doors of Paradise (1425-37).
The Flood (lunette, 215 x 510) and the Sacrifice and Drunkenness of Noah (277 x 540) are usually judged later. Crowe and Cavacaselle assumed they were painted about 1446-48, on the grounds that the figure of Shem in the last scene is, according to Vasari, a portrait of the painter Dello Delli, who returned from Spain to Florence at this time. The fresco of the Flood represents two scenes in the same lunette. On the left, the storm rages. The ark (seen from the side) floats on the rising waters, while desperate people try vainly to save themselves. On the right, the waters have receded. The ark (now seen across the end) has come to rest on dry land, littered with the corpses of the drowned. The figure of Noah leaning out of the window of the ark is possibly a self-portrait. The heavily cloaked figure standing in the right foreground may be a portrait of Leonbattista Alberti, whose Della Pittura of 1435 seems to have suggested several of the subjects in the fresco. The fresco is so badly abraded that some of the incidents it depicts are now barely decipherable. The details are clearer in an engraving made in 1839 for Giovanni Rosini’s Storia della Pittura Italiana.
The scenes of the Building of the Ark and the Procession of God’s Creatures have sometimes been ascribed to Dello Delli.
The frescoes have been restored many times. They were cleaned around 1853 by Gaetano Bianchi, who applied a protective coating (beverone) to prevent the pilaster coming away from the wall. Some scenes were detached in 1907-10, and others followed in 1942. A further restoration was needed after flood damage in 1966. After many years in storage, the frescoes were returned to the Chiostro Verde in 1983. They were removed again during the latest restorations (2005-6 and 2011-14), and are currently displayed, along with their sinopie, in the museum (the former refectory) next to the cloister. The intention is eventually to return them to their original location.
Florence. San Minato al Monte. Upper Cloister.
Fragments of Frescoes.
Vasari says that in the cloister Uccello ‘painted scenes from the lives of the Fathers of the Church, in which he ignored the rule of consistency in colouring, for he made the fields blue, the cities red, and the buildings in various colours as he felt inclined’. There seem originally to have been at least eight scenes (divided by painted pilasters) on the east wall of the loggia in the upper story of the cloister, with at least two more on the south wall. Plastered over in the seventeenth century, they were rediscovered in 1925, with further fragments uncovered in 1942 and 1969. They were detached in 1969-71 and returned to their original position in 1976. The frescoes used to be regarded as early works, but in 1964 it was discovered that the cloister was not constructed until 1442-47. A still later dating is suggested by evidence (published in 2005 by L. Venturini in the Italian journal Paragone) that the Abbot of San Miniato, Brother Giuliano, wrote to Uccello about the frescoes in 1461.
Florence. Santa Trinita.
Fresco fragment on entrance wall.
Vasari says that ‘over the left door inside the church, [Uccello] painted in fresco scenes from the life of St Francis, showing the saint receiving the stigmata, supporting the Church on his shoulders and embracing St Dominic’. All that remains of these frescoes is a small fragment (probably repainted in the sixteenth century) with the seraph from the top of the St Francis receiving the Stigmata.
Indianapolis. Museum of Art (Clowes Collection).
Portrait of a Young Man. Wood, 62 in dia.
This little known profile portrait was included as a work of Uccello in the 2002 exhibition Masaccio e Le Origini del Rinascimento at the Casa Masaccio, San Giovanni Valdarno. The polygonal panel was originally rectangular: it has been cut down and bits have been added on. The face has been retouched in places. The portrait’s history has been traced back only to the 1890s, when it was in the large and eclectic collection of Emile Gravet at Paris. In 1941, when it was in the Silbermann Galleries in New York, three distinguished art historians (Lionello Venturi, Hans Tietze and Wilhelm Suida) offered testimonials in favour of an attribution to Uccello. It was illustrated for the first time in 1962, when it was included in an exhibition of Italian and Spanish paintings from the Clowes collection at the Indianapolis University Gallery. The monographs by Pope-Hennessy (1969) and Franco and Stefano Borsi (1994) both fail to mention the picture. Doubts have occasionally been expressed about its authenticity. The Uccello attribution has, however, had the support of a number of recent writers (including Hugh Hudson in his 2008 monograph).
Karlsruhe. Staatliche Kunsthalle.
Adoration with SS. Jerome, Mary Magdalene and Eustace. Wood, 110 x 47.
Nothing is known of the early history of this panel, which was acquired in 1837 by the Grand Duke Von Baden. It was given to Piero della Francesca in early gallery catalogues. In 1935, Pudelko attributed it and several other pictures to an ‘independent personality, influenced by Uccello and perhaps trained in Uccello’s studio’, whom he christened the ‘Master of the Karlsruhe Adoration’. The concept of the ‘Karlsruhe Master’ (though not the precise group of works attributed to him by Pudelko) was accepted by Pope-Hennessy and others. An attribution to Uccello himself seems to have been first suggested in 1954, when the Karlsruhe picture was exhibited at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence. Since the discovery in 1978-80 in Bologna of the fresco fragment dated 1431 or 1437 (?), which offers a possible example of Uccello’s style in the 1430s, there has been an increasing tendency to accept the Adoration and other pictures attributed to the ‘Karlsruhe Master’(including the Thyssen Crucifixion and the Accademia Scenes from Monastic Legends) as works of Uccello himself.
London. National Gallery.
*Battle of San Romano ('Niccolò da Tolentino leading the Attack against the Sienese'). Wood, 182 x 320.
Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino, the Florentines’ commander-in-chief on a white charger in the centre, directs the attack against the Sienese. He wears a large hat of red and gold brocade, rather than a helmet, and above him is his standard with his device of Solomon’s knot. The arms, armour and broken lances scattered in the foreground are shown in a perspectival grid, but some of the foreshortening (particularly of the fallen knight on the left) is conspicuously faulty. The picture was one of three panels – the others are in the Uffizi and the Louvre – depicting incidents in the battle. As the first in the series, the National Gallery panel would presumably have hung on the left. The three panels were not commissioned by the Medici, as had been assumed until recently, but are recorded in 1480 in the house of the then recently deceased Lionardo di Bartolomeo Bartolini Salimbeni, who had been a leading member of the Florentine government. By 1492, they decorated a room (later known as the Camera di Lorenzo) in the Palazzo Medici. The room also contained two other pictures by Uccello (a Combat of Dragons and Lions and the Legend of Paris) and one by Pesellino. The National Gallery acquired its panel in 1857 with the Lombardi-Baldi collection. It is more poorly preserved than the Uffizi and Louvre panels. The horses have lost much of their modelling (perhaps partly because of radical cleaning in the 1960s) and the flesh paint is also very worn. Restoration conceals a long crack running through Tolentino's headdress and the silver leaf used for the armour has tarnished.
*Saint George and the Dragon. Canvas, 57 x 74.
St George wounds the dragon with his lance, and the Princess puts her girdle round its neck to lead it like a dog into the city. The massed clouds probably signify divine support for St George. The medium and the support – oil on canvas – are both unusual for a Florentine painting of Uccello’s time, and concerns about its authenticity have occasionally been expressed (eg. by Thomas Hoving, former Director of the Metropolitan Museum, in an article in the Sunday Telegraph of 24 August 1996). However, the National Gallery has robustly defended the painting against such doubts (see its Technical Bulletin, no. 19, 1998). The painting is not recorded until 1898, when Charles Loeser saw it in the collection of Count Lanckoronski at Vienna and attributed it to Uccello. It was stolen by the Nazis in 1939; for many years subsequently it was assumed lost, whereas it had in fact been recovered by the American forces after the war and returned to Count Lanckoronski, who kept it secretly in a Swiss bank account. Few had seen the picture when it was offered to the National Gallery at the end of 1958. It is generally now accepted as a late work of Uccello (about 1460-70). There are other paintings of this subject attributed to Uccello at Melbourne and Paris (Jacquemart-André Museum), but both are entirely different in composition.
Los Angeles. Getty Museum.
Virgin and Child. Wood, 47 x 34.
This small panel, showing a half-length Madonna against an agricultural landscape of fields and orchards, was acquired by the Getty Museum in 1970 from a private American collection. It is first recorded only in 1954, when it was included as a work of Uccello in an exhibition (Quattro Maestri del Primo Rinascimento) held at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence. The attribution was endorsed by several distinguished Italian art historians (Roberto Longhi, Pietro Toesca and Mario Salmi). The composition of the Virgin and Child is related to a drawing by Uccello in the Uffizi. However, while Uccello may have been responsible for the design, the execution of the painting is now usually ascribed to a workshop assistant or close follower. (It has been conjectured that the painter could have been Uccello's daughter Antonia or his son Donato.)
Madrid. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
Crucifixion with SS. John the Baptist and Francis. Wood, 46 x 68.
This somewhat damaged panel (the figure of Christ is especially abraded and retouched) was probably the centre of a predella. It is first recorded in Switzerland in 1927 with an ascription to Andrea del Castagno, and was attributed to Uccello by Van Marle in 1928 when in the hands of a Dutch dealer. Acquired by Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Germano-Hungarian industrialist and art collector, in 1930. The Uccello attribution has often been accepted, though in Pope-Hennessy’s view ‘the relatively low quality of drawing and execution affords a decisive argument against an ascription to Uccello.’ Padoa Rizzo (1991) suggests that Uccello’s children might have had a hand in the execution. For supporters of the Uccello attribution, it used to be considered a very early work (1420s), but it now tends to be dated late (1450s or 1460s).
Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria.
Saint George and the Dragon. Wood, 62 x 39.
The treatment of this familiar subject is unusual. The saint has dismounted and is tackling the dragon on foot with a dagger, his sword and broken lance lying on the ground. The tip of his lance is impaled in the dragon's neck. The princess, kneeling in front of the saint’s prancing white steed, holds a chain with a collar, presumably to tether the beast. Above is God the Father, crowned with a triple tiara, and the walled city of Silene is seen in the background. First recorded, with an attribution to Andrea Orcagna, in the 1840s in the hands of the English dealer Samuel Woodburn. From 1867, it was in the Carnegie collection at Kinnaird Castle, near Dundee. After a fire in 1922, it was loaned to the National Gallery of Scotland. Acquired in 1949 by the National Gallery of Victoria as a work of the Sienese artist Domenico di Bartolo (an attribution proposed by Van Marle in volume nine of his encyclopaedic Development of the Italian Schools of Painting (1927)). The connection with Uccello was first suggested by Roberto Longhi, who attributed the panel to a follower in 1928 but to Uccello himself in 1968. It was only towards the end of the twentieth century that the attribution started to become more general. Early datings (early 1430s or even late 1420s) have been proposed. In fairly good condition (though the dragon’s wings have been restored).
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
A portable triptych. The centre panel (46 x 28) shows the Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John the Evangelist at the sides and Mary Magdalene weeping at Christ’s feet. The diminutive donor, a Brigettine nun kneeling in prayer, is identified by the inscription as ‘S[uor] Filicita’. Two angels in flight catch in chalices the blood that drips from the nail wounds in Christ's hands. The side panels (each 46 x 14/13) show St Bridget of Sweden (dripping hot wax on her bare arm) and the Virgin holding the Child, with the Angel and Virgin of the Annunciation in the pinnacles above. There are no early references to this charming little devotional work, which is first recorded in 1945 in the hands of the Florentine dealer Vittorio Frascione. Roberto Longhi attributed it to Uccello in an unpublished opinion, while Alessandro Parronchi (in his 1974 monograph) tentatively suggested Uccello’s daughter Antonia. After the triptych was bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum in 1996 by Mrs Rudolf J. Heinemann (widow of the American art dealer), the curator Keith Christiansen re-attributed it to Uccello as a comparatively early work of the mid-1430s. Hugh Hudson calls it a studio work in his 2008 monograph. The donor has been recently identified with a certain Felicità di Francesco da Casavecchia, who entered the Brigettine convent of Santa Maria del Paradiso at Bagno a Ripola, just outside the walls of Florence, in January 1455.
Oxford. Ashmolean Museum.
*A Hunt. Wood, 73 x 177.
This mysterious and intriguing night scene has been described as 'one of the most unaffectedly romantic paintings of the Quattrocento' (Pope-Hennessy). As X-rays confirm, the composition was structured within a perspective grid with a central vanishing point. Mounted huntsmen, beaters on foot with spears and lithe greyhounds recede from the spectator as they pursue deer into the darkness of the wood. The faint crescent moon in the centre of the sky and the little golden crescents on the horse trappings may be of heraldic significance (crescent moons appear on the Strozzi coat-of-arms) or may allude to Diana, goddess of hunting and of chastity. Gold (now dulled) has been used to pick out the highlights on the leaves of the trees. Mushrooms grow in profusion on the forest floor. The idea that the panel represents the young Lorenzo de’ Medici hunting near Pisa seems to have originated with the Italian art historican Mario Salmi and is no more than (rather romantic) speculation. Often assumed to have been a cassone painting, the picture is probably too tall for this, and is more likely to have been a spalliera panel, built into decorative panelling or some magnificent piece of furniture.
The panel appears to be a late work (1460s or even 1470s), similar in style to the Urbino predella, and is possibly the ‘panel of a hunt by an excellent hand’ recorded in an Urbino inventory (though the dimensions do not exactly correspond). It was one of some forty works given to the Ashmolean Museum in 1850 by William Thomas Horner Fox-Strangways (who was Secretary of the Legation at Florence until 1828 and may have obtained his paintings from the Florentine restorer Vincenzo Gotti). It was not attributed to Uccello until 1896, when Berenson published the first edition of his Florentine Painters. It is one of Uccello’s better-preserved panel paintings (though the colours, especially the shadows in the forest, have darkened, and the greens of the foliage and foreground have browned).
One of Uccello's best known paintings, it is mentioned in John Fowles's 1963 thriller The Collector and his 1974 short story The Ebony Tower, and it featured in a 2009 episode (Point of Vanishing) of ITV's police drama Lewis.
Annunciation. Wood, 64 x 48.
The Angel Gabriel appears three times: receiving instruction from God the Father; descending from heaven; and delivering the message to the Virgin. This little panel, with its lavish use of gold leaf and ultramarine, is exceptionally well preserved. Previously catalogued by the museum as a work of the Sienese painter Pietro di Giovanni d’Ambrogio (an attribution proposed by Berenson in his 1932 Lists). Although the Uccellesque character of the painting has long been recognised, it was only in 1980 that an attribution was made (by Carlo Volpe in the Italian journal Paragone) to Uccello himself. The attribution, as a very early work, has been endorsed by most subsequent published opinion. Another of the pictures given to the museum in 1850 by Fox-Strangways.
*Battle of San Romano ('Micheletto da Cotignola leading a Florentine Counter-Attack'). Wood, 180 x 316.
This panel shows Micheletto Attendolo da Cotignola, in the centre on a rearing black horse beneath his standard, ordering the counter-attack of the Florentine troops. Panels in Florence and London show other incidents from the battle. The pictures differ markedly in tone and may represent different times of day: morning (London), mid-day (Florence) and dusk (Paris). (The pictures are all in comparatively poor condition, however, and the differences in tone may partly reflect old restorations and cleanings.) All three panels were appropriated by Lorenzo de’Medici from the Bartolini Salimbeni family and seem to have remained in the Medici collections until 1787, when two were apparently sold. These were acquired from the Giraldi family by Lombardi and Baldi in 1844-48; the Louvre panel was subsequently in the Campana collection, which was purchased in 1861 for the Musée Napoleon III. The green background has darkened and the silver leaf used for the armour has tarnished.
The Founders of Florentine Art. Wood, 42 x 210.
Vasari attributed this panel, owned in his day by the architect Giuliano da Sangallo, to Masaccio in the 1550 edition of the Lives, but to Uccello in the 1568 edition. The inscriptions, identifying the portraits as Giotto, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Uccello himself and Manetti, are old but not original. The attribution of the panel (which is extensively repainted) is controversial: one view is that it is by, or after, Masaccio; another that it is by, or after, Uccello; a third is that it is an old copy. Another version, attributed to Salviati, in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, combines the heads of Giotto, Donatello and Brunelleschi with portraits of Raphael and Michelangelo.
Paris. Musée Jacquemart-André.
*Saint George and the Dragon. Wood, 52 x 90.
This retouched panel could have been a backboard (spalliera) or front of a cassone, or a piece of decorative panelling. It was first described in 1898 by Charles Loeser when it was in the Bardini collection, Florence. Loeser attributed it to Uccello, and this view has been generally accepted, although Pope-Hennessy (1969) expressed reservations because of its condition. The picture may be one owned in 1465 by the Florentine merchant Lorenzo di Matteo Morelli and referred to in his account book (‘a large Saint George … painted by Paolo Uccello the painter for seven large florins … one and a half braccio long and one and an eighth wide’).
Parma. Pinacoteca Stuard (Monastero di San Paolo).
Christ carrying the Cross. Wood, 53 x 34.
The inscription on the scroll ('If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me') is from Matthew's Gospel (16: 24). This small panel was acquired in Florence in 1786 by Marchese Tacoli-Canucci as a work of Castagno. It was attributed to Uccello in 1954, when it was included – along with most of Uccello's other disputed panel paintings – in an exhibition (Quattro Maestri del Primo Rinascimento) at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence. There had been earlier attributions to Giovanni di Francesco and to the 'Prato Master'. The Uccello attribution, while retained by the Stuard Gallery, has not won general acceptance. Pope-Hennessy (1969) gives the panel to the 'Karlsruhe Master', while – among more recent monographs – Borsi and Borsi (1994) classes it as 'circle of Uccello' and Hudson (2008) lists it under 'uncertain attributions'.
Prato. Duomo. Cappella dell’Assunta.
Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and St Stephen. Frescoes.
The Cappella dell’Assunta is the first chapel to the right of the choir. Most of the frescoes, which were affected by fungus, were detached in 1964-65. They are first recorded only in the nineteenth century, when they were described as fourteenth-century works by a follower of Giotto. They are by two different hands. Since Sirén (L’Arte, 1904), the (inferior) lower scenes have been attributed to Andrea di Giusto (a former assistant of Masaccio who died in 1450). The attribution of the upper frescoes (the scenes on the side walls of the Birth of the Virgin, the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, the Dispute of Stephen and the Stoning of Stephen; the figures of the Four Virtues on the vault; and the saints on the underside of the entrance arch) has been much discussed. Roberto Longhi (Pinacoteca, 1928) was at first of the view that they were by Giovanni di Francesco (the ‘Carrand Master’). Berenson (1932-63 Lists) agreed. In 1940 Longhi (La Critica d’Arte) changed his mind and gave the frescoes to Uccello. Pope-Hennessy and others have considered the frescoes to be by another, unidentified Uccellesque painter (the ‘Prato Master’). Since Pope-Hennessy’s monographs (1950 and 1969), opinion, particularly among Italian academics, has tended to shift in favour of early Uccello. The figure at the right edge of the Presentation could be a self-portrait. Evidence on the patronage of the chapel suggests that the frescoes could date from the mid-1430s. They were cleaned in 1997.
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
Jacopone da Todi. Detached fresco, 180 x 59.
Jacopone da Todi, identified by the inscription at the base of the fresco, was the author of religious poems and is said to have composed the famous Latin hymn Stabat Mater. Born around 1220-30 in Todi in Umbria, he was a wealthy lawyer as a young man, but renounced his worldly possessions and joined the Franciscan Order, as a lay brother, after the death of his wife in a tragic accident. (She was killed at a public tournament, when a stand collapsed, and was discovered to have been wearing a hairshirt.) He opposed Pope Boniface VIII's attempt to suppress the Fraticelli (followers of the original rule of St Francis), and was excommunicated and imprisoned in 1298. He was pardoned by Benedict XI, but died three years later in 1306. The fresco shows him full-length, standing beneath a scallop shell, displaying an open book inscribed with an extract from one of his poems. Detached in 1871 from the back wall of the Cappella dell’Assunta and transferred to the museum in 1967.
Raleigh. North Carolina Museum of Art.
Virgin and Child. Wood, 58 x 41.
There are no early references to this half-length Madonna, which is first recorded in the collection of Achillitto Chiesa, an Argentinian shipping magnate based in Milan. It was acquired by Kress in 1938 from the dealer Contini Bonacossi and allotted to the Raleigh Museum in 1960. The gold background and the flesh tones are badly worn. The panel was included by Pope-Hennessy (1950 and 1969) and others in the group of works ascribed to the 'Karlsruhe Master' (a hypothetical follower of Uccello named after the Adoration in the German museum). Attributions have sometimes been made to Uccello himself (quite recently, for example, by Laurence Kanter in an article on The 'cose piccole' of Paolo Uccello in the August 2000 issue of Apollo). But the balance of recent opinion appears to favour an attribution to Uccello's workshop or circle. A similar (much restored) Madonna in Berlin appears to be by the same hand.
Urbino. Galleria Nazionale.
*Profanation of the Host. Wood, 42 x 351.
The predella illustrates an anti-Semitic tale. There are six scenes: a Jewish pawnbroker acquires a consecrated host from a woman who was forced to redeem her cloak (the scorpion emblazoned on the shield hanging on the chimney breast was a common symbol of Jewish perfidy); blood pours from the host when it is placed on a fire, and the door of the Jew’s house is battered down; the Pope himself replaces the host on the altar; an angel intervenes at the execution of the repentant woman; the Jew and his family are burned; and angels and devils dispute over the woman’s soul.
The predella was painted for the Confraternity of Corpus Domini in Urbino. Payments, mostly in kind, were made to Uccello and his son Donato between 1465 and 1468 (when Uccello was about seventy years old). The commission probably included not only the predella but also the main panel of the altarpiece. After Uccello left Urbino, Piero della Francesca seems to have refused an invitation to complete the altarpiece, and the commission was ultimately awarded to Justus of Ghent (Joos van Wassenhove) in 1473. When the church of Corpus Domini was demolished, both the altarpiece and predella were transferred to Sant’Agata. The predella was discovered (‘chipped’, ‘with nail holes’ and ‘damaged by lime and water’) in the late 1850s in the neighbouring Scolopi College (where ‘blacksmiths and masons for many years had used it to rest scaffolding’). In 1861 it was transferred to the Palazzo Ducale and restored. Repaint (especially heavy on the landscape) was removed in 1954. It appears to be in surprisingly good condition (apart from the devils, which have been scratched by worshippers).