How many panels compose the work The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello?

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The Battle of San Romano, Paolo Uccello’s masterpiece, marks a milestone in 15th-century painting, symbolizing the advent of the Renaissance. Comprising three panels measuring approximately 3x2m, this work illustrates with precision and realism the Florentine victory over Siena on June 1, 1432, near San Romano. Niccolò da Tolentino’s victorious strategy, simulating a retreat to trap the enemies, is masterfully represented thanks to the innovation of mathematical perspective, underlining the dynamism and complexity of the scene through the interplay of shapes, colors and light.

This work raises many questions: Why did Paolo Uccello create this series? Who was it intended for? And why are the panels currently housed in three different museums? This article invites you to discover the history and art of this fascinating trilogy, the Battle of San Romano, which testifies to the richness and depth of Uccello’s work.

A trilogy: Discovering the three panels

Identifying the panels

The three panels that make up The Battle of San Romano illustrate different scenes from the event, while sharing a common style and color palette.

At the National Gallery in London, the first panel features Niccolò da Tolentino and his troops. Recognizable by his red armor and the white feather on his helmet, he is the Florentine leader, strategist of the victory over the Sienese.

The Musée du Louvre in Paris houses the second panel, showing the surprising counter-attack orchestrated by Tolentino’s ally Michelotto da Cotignola, wearing green armor and a yellow feather.

Finally, in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, the third panel depicts Bernardino della Ciarda, the Sienese commander, stunned by a spear. Wearing blue armor and carrying a red feather, this is the only panel signed by Paolo Uccello, who inscribed his name in the lower right-hand corner.

Themes common to all three works

Although each panel narrates a distinct scene, they are linked by a common theme and style, celebrating Florence’s triumph over Siena and extolling the glory of the condottieres, the mercenary military leaders who marked Italian history.

They illustrate Paolo Uccello’s innovative talent for handling mathematical perspective, exploiting geometric shapes and playing with colors to bring his works to life. Perspective gives an impression of depth, geometric shapes order the scene and create a captivating visual rhythm, while the bold use of contrasting colors underlines the dynamism and brilliance of the composition. Through this trilogy, Paolo Uccello fuses scientific precision with artistic creativity, prefiguring the Renaissance era.

Detailed view of each panel

London panel: The start of the battle

The London panel illustrates the start of the battle. Niccolò da Tolentino, commander of the Florentine forces, enters the battlefield, flanked by his troops. Distinguished by red armor and a white feather on his helmet, he stands out in the middle of the fray. Around him, his soldiers proudly display the banners of Florence and the Medici family.

The foreground reveals broken spears and suffering horses, silent witnesses to the brutality of the fighting. In the background, the town of San Romano appears as the scene of the struggle. Paolo Uccello’s ingenious use of perspective lends the whole a striking dimension of depth, while incorporating geometric shapes such as the circles of shields and wheels, which lend visual dynamism to the scene. The bright, contrasting color palette highlights the armor and standards.

Florence panel: the height of conflict

In the Florence panel, we witness the climax of the conflict. Michelotto da Cotignola, Tolentino’s ally, leads a surprise counter-attack against the Sienese. His uniform – green armor with a yellow feather – makes him instantly recognizable. He is accompanied by troops bearing the emblems of the Bartolini Salimbeni family, patrons of the work. At the heart of the action is the fall of Bernardino della Ciarda, leader of the Sienese, bewildered and symbolizing defeat with his blue armor and red feather.

The foreground offers a marked contrast, with fruit and flowers contrasting with the tumult of war. The background opens onto a landscape of hills and forests, emphasizing the remoteness of the scene. Here, Paolo Uccello intensifies his use of light and color, bringing vivacity and harmony to the composition.

Paris panel: The rout of the enemy

The Paris panel captures the moment when the Sienese enemy retreats, defeated by the Florentines. Signed by Paolo Uccello in the lower right, this work marks the end of the series. Michelotto da Cotignola, recognizable by his armor and new red plume, leads the charge against the fugitives with his horsemen. The soldiers, waving Medici banners, underline the Florentine victory.

The foreground shows Sienese dead or captured, stripped of their weapons and clothes. In the background, a castle stands out, perhaps the town of San Romano. Using his usual techniques, Paolo Uccello varies the perspectives and postures of the figures to create an impression of movement and diversity.

Current panel location

How the panels were separated

The three panels that make up The Battle of San Romano have followed a tumultuous path, culminating in their current separation in three separate museums.

They were originally painted by the artist Paolo Uccello, at the request of the Bartolini Salimbeni family of Florence, to decorate their palace. However, at the end of the 15th century, Lorenzo de’ Medici, the powerful ruler of Florence, confiscated them to decorate his own palace.

During the 17th century, they were transferred to the Casino Mediceo di San Marco, residence of Cardinal Carlo de’ Medici. In 1784, their journey took them to the Uffizi Museum, where they remained together until the early 19th century.

Subsequently sold to private collectors, each panel eventually found its way to a different museum: the London panel to the National Gallery in 1857, the Paris panel to the Louvre in 1863 and, finally, the Florence panel to the Uffizi Gallery in 1904.

Cultural significance in today’s exhibition venues

Despite their dispersal, the three panels from the Battle of San Romano retain inestimable cultural significance in the places where they are exhibited. They reflect the golden age of the Italian Renaissance, and have left their mark on vast swathes of European art.

They reveal the historical and political dynamics of 15th-century Italy, a time of intense rivalry between city-states and ruling families. They are also representative of the genius of Paolo Uccello, an artist of fertile imagination who transcended convention with his innovative use of perspective, geometric forms and vibrant color palette. Together, these panels form a captivating trilogy, still admired for its depth and complexity.



How many panels compose the work The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello?


The Battle of San Romano is a famous work by the painter Paolo Uccello, painted in three panels around 1456.