recto: Study for the Head of a Soldier in the Battle of Anghiari
verso: Study for a Soldier
Leonardo da Vinci
(Vinci 1452 – 1519 Amboise)
|Medium:||red chalk on very pale pink prepared paper|
|Dimensions:||226 × 186 mm|
|Department:||Prints and Drawings|
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recto: Study for the Head of a Soldier in the Battle of AnghiariLeonardo was already over fifty when he was commissioned to decorate one of the long walls in the great hall in the Palazzo Vecchio, the Florentine town hall. The specified subject was the victory gained at Anghiari over the old rival Milan in 1440. Although such a prestigious commission must have been flattering to the painter, and his younger rival Michelangelo was working on a pair to the fresco, Leonardo once more began to work only after prolonged hesitation. Rather than the traditional fresco technique he experimented with a special slow-drying method, but met with failure. He had not yet finished the central scene when, in the poorly heated dank room the fresco began to decay. After this Leonardo abandoned the work completely, and a year later left Florence for good.
While the fresco, which fell victim to subsequent alterations to the hall, is known through several contemporary reports and copies, barely half a dozen drawings for the work in Leonardo's own hand survives. Made in the last stage of the preparations, these head studies, with their vividness for being done from a live model, their dramatic expression, the highlights and deep tones creating the characteristic Leonardine chiaroscuro contrasts, count as some of the master's most excellent drawings. They also faithfully convey the staggering horror of the soldiers' cruel warring fury as they rush at each other with unbridled ferocity in the heat of battle, a state Leonardo called pazzia bestialissima, the most bestial madness.