Today is the anniversary of the death of Paolo Uccello (née Paolo di Dono), the early Renaissance Florentine painter, who died on December 10, 1475. As both a painter and an astute mathematician, Uccello is best remembered as being a trailblazer in developing linear perspective, which signaled the advent of the Renaissance style. He studied with the sculptor Ghiberti in Florence from about 1407 to 1414, and by 1430 was making his own living as a painter.
Arguably, Uccello’s most famous paintings are three panels representing the Battle of San Romano, now in the Louvre, Paris; the National Gallery, London; and the Uffizi, Florence. Together, they represent different moments in the 1432 victory of Florentine forces, lead by Niccolò da Tolentino, over the troops of their rival, Siena. In all three paintings we can see how Uccello devised a rudimentary perspectival system to render both space and depth. His paintings also, however, still include elements of a decorative late Gothic style, which we can see in the way Uccello emphasized color and surface pattern in the figures’ attire and the landscape.
Nevertheless, Uccello’s artistic contribution was well noted by the first art historian Giorgio Vasari, who wrote in his Vite that the artist was so obsessed with perspective that he would stay up all night trying to determine the exact vanishing point. Uccello’s breakthrough paintings influenced the next generation of Renaissance artists, which included Piero della Francesca, Albrecht Dürerand Leonardo da Vinci, to name a few.
Florentine School, Portrait of Uccello, date unknown, Musée du Louvre, Paris
The Battle of San Romano, ca. 1438-40, Egg tempera with walnut oil and linseed oil on poplar, National Gallery, London
The Battle of San Romano, ca. 1438-40, Egg tempera with walnut oil and linseed oil on poplar, Uffizi, Florence
The Battle of San Romano, ca. 1438-40, Egg tempera with walnut oil and linseed oil on poplar, Louvre, Paris
Saint George and the Dragon. ca. 1470, Egg tempera with walnut oil and linseed oil on poplar