The Battle of Anghiari, late 1460s

Florentine Master (fl. 1460s), 'The Battle of Anghiari', late 1460s. NGI.778

Florentine Master (fl. 1460s)

The Battle of Anghiari, late 1460s

Tempera on poplar panel, with gilding | 62.4 x 207.5 cm | Bequeathed, Sir Hugh Lane, 1918 | NGI.778

The Battle of Anghiari commemorates a great Florentine victory over another city-state – Milan – enabling Florence to dominate the Tuscany region. At that time, battles were mainly led by condottieri, these were mercenary knights who were paid to fight. They did not take up arms for a personal cause and it is likely that they would have been fighting other paid condottieri. This may have led to a situation where few were mortally wounded as there may have been a mutual interest on the part of the condottieri to live to fight another day. This may account for contemporary written descriptions of the Battle of Anghiari, which claim very little loss of life among these knights. Foot soldiers, of which there were thousands, may not have fared so well. 

The fleur de lis, the symbol of Florence, flutters on pennants, high above the battlefield. Its prominent placement confirms the identity of the winning side. This also included the Papal States and the Venetian Republic who fought alongside Florence against Milan, whose growing power under Duke Filippo Maria Visconti represented a threat to them all. The battle took place on the River Tiber, near Anghiari, on 29 June 1440. On the left is the walled town of Sansepolcro which was under the control of the Milanese. On the right is the town of Anghiari. Visible in the distance are the towns of Città di Castello, Citerna and Monterchi. The battle was won when the Florentine forces gained control of a strategic bridge forcing the Milanese troops to retreat.

The unknown artist who painted this work was skilful at capturing the pageantry of the occasion. He is referred to as the Florentine Master. The painting may have been part of an ornamental scheme for a wood panelled room in the home of a wealthy Florentine family, possibly the Cappioni, who contributed generously to the city’s cause. It was not unusual for wall panelling or pieces of furniture belonging to the wealthy to be painted with interesting scenes that were both decorative and commemorative.