The Battle of Anghiari: Leonardo’s Depiction of Florence’s Victory

The Battle of the Anghiari, a lost mural artwork by Leonardo da Vinci, showcases the 1440s Florence’s victory over Milan.

The Battle of Anghiari

After many days of hectic work schedules, targets, and next-to-impossible peace grants, I finally enjoyed my endless historical reading yesterday. Now if you are wondering, amidst many fascinating reads, why I chose reading about history, which seems bland, so let me tell you, my friend, diving into the pool of historical characters where you can evaluate real characters is far more interesting than any fiction or non-fiction. So, as I was reading Walter’s book on Leonardo, I was enthralled by his stories of life, intelligence, and somehow creepy, of course. And for all those who didn’t get a chance to read about his life, I will ensure `that I include every aspect through a series of articles. Previously, I have composed a painting analysis on Virgin of the Rocks, Vitruvian Man, and The Last Supper. However, every time I make a draft, to learn how others write and what techniques I can use to make my reading experience easier, I search the internet for articles about them. However, reading them didn’t fascinate me as the way the web lets us see Leonardo falls far short of what we actually know about him. Thus, to portray his true self, instead of an entire biography, I picked out the most beautiful stories, which, in turn, also describe his art. As a surprise for today, I brought one of his famous and lost paintings, the Battle of Anghiari, which few people know about but one that has an intriguing history.

General Information.

1. Artist Statement.

“The second essential in painting is appropriate action and a due variety in the figures, so that the man may not look like brothers.”

Leonardo always believed that the foremost thing essential in any painting is that the objects in it must appear in relief and that the grounds which surround them at a different distance must appear within the vertical plane of the foreground of the picture with proper use of perspective.

2. Subject Matter.

The Battle of Anghiari showcases a sprawling battle scene of Florence’s victory over Milan. Here the artwork consists of horses tossed up in the smoke of artillery mingling in the air. With the twisting movements of fascination and repulsion, his sketches portrayed the brutality of battle.

A copy of Leonardo's Battle of Anghiari by Peter Paul Rubens | Source: Via Wikimedia Commons

3. Artist.

Leonardo da Vinci, one of the greatest botanists, engineers, and painters, composed this sketch at the Battle of Aghiari. Commonly called the archetypal “Renaissance Man,” he was a painter who practised science thoroughly. Among all his scientific endeavours- optics, geology, botany and hydrodynamics, the field that engaged him most fully and where he made far-reaching discoveries was human anatomy, which in turn deeply impacted his works.

4. Date.

The initial sketches of the Battle of Anghiari by which he got the commission dates back to 1503, whereas, in May 1504, Leonardo signed a revised contract of the commission, but due to certain reasons, the painting was never completed.

5. Provenance.

As Leonardo received a commission from Florence’s Council Hall in the Palazzo della Signoria in October 1503, the battle scene he painted could have become one of the most important of his life. His mural would have been a narrative masterpiece if he had completed it according to the preparatory drawings he had made, as captivating as the Last Supper. However, the movements of the bodies and the emotions of the minds wouldn’t be constrained by the confined setting of a Passover Sedar. The provenance has a long draft as there was not a single incident that could describe the commission. I will let you know the rest of it in the next section.

6. Location.

The Battle of Anghiari is lost, so you can not find it anywhere.

7. Technique and Medium.

For the painting, Leonardo da Vinci treated the plaster wall with the Greek pitch, where a dark residue of distilled turpentine or a mix of resin and wax is used for the wall. Then he used oil colours with the linseed oil, and to dry these pigments and concentrate the oil, he lit a fire below his painting. You must understand that Leonardo used oil-based tinctures and glazes to enable him to create luminous illusions. And it was this oil that permitted him to paint with finer brushstrokes, giving every atmospheric effect.

ArtistLeonardo da Vinci
Year Paintedc. 1503-05
GenreItalian High Renaissance
PeriodHistorical Painting
DimensionsPainted on a 174 ft. wall, Exact size is unknown
Where is it housed?Lost Artwork

Now, that you know a brief information about the artwork, let us move on towards the next section, giving us spine-chilling facts about the work.

In-depth Information About Leonardo’s Lost Masterpiece.

About the artist: Who was Leonardo da Vinci?

I have already told you a lot about the life of Leonardo in my series of articles. So to not repeat the same facts over and over, I am giving you complete new information.

Instead of being trained as a painter, Leonardo joined the painters guild in Florence, the Company of St Luke, in 1472 to work under Andrea del Verrochio. He executed some works, such as the Annunciation, while being in the workshop of Verrochio, who was famously known for his angel’s head in the Baptism. After the workshop, da Vinci began his career as a conventional painter. In 1483, he moved to the northern Italian city of Milan, where architecture and engineering greatly fascinated him, and he began to assemble notes towards painting perfection. He was left-handed, but he thoroughly noted his notes in mirror-image from right to left, which he developed during his childhood.

Self-Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci in the Vitruvian Man

There is much more to know about the artist, and you can obviously read them from my other articles, but for now, we will learn about the painting for what we are here for.

History and Background of the Artwork.

The leaders of Florence city wished to celebrate their 1440 victory over Milan, one of the greatest triumphs on their battlefield, with an art mural of Leonardo. As their intent remained to exalt the glory of the soldiers and warriors, Leonardo, who also had a closer experience of war as he was a military engineer, aimed to create something complex but profound. Hence, to adorn the 174-foot wall in the meeting chamber for Florence’s Signoria on the second floor of what is now called the Palazzo Vecchio, Leonardo was to paint the Battle of Anghiari. Now, to understand the commission, I have to give you a brief fact about its relevance.

The place was expanded in 1494 by Savonarola to fit all the five hundred members of the Grand Council. When Savonarola was gone, the council leader was called standard-bearer or gonfalonier. It helped Leonardo to determine the element of the centre of Battle of Anghiari mural, which is the fight for the standard at the climax of the battle.

Florence’s Palazzo della Signoria, now the Palazzo Vecchio, in 1498 during the burning of Savonarola

The idea of painting a battlefield was not new for Leonardo, as he had written an extensive description of it more than ten years earlier. Let me show you what he wrote,

“First you must represent the smoke of artillery mingling in the air with the dust tossed up by the movement of horses and the combatants. The finest part of the dust rises highest; hence that part will be least visible and will look almost the same colour as the air… At the top, where the smoke is more separate from the dust, the smoke will assume a bluish tinge. Make the little clouds of dust distant from each other in proportion to the strides made by the galloping horses, and the clouds which are furthest removed from the horses should be least visible; make them high and spreading and thin, and the nearer ones will be more conspicuous and smaller and denser.”

Leonardo's Study of battles on horseback and on foot for the Battle of Anghiari

For the battle, there was a description, which says about the conflicted mix of fascination and repulsion Leonardo, which portrays the brutality of the battlefield.

“If you show a man who has fallen to the ground, show the place where he has been dragged as blood mud. A horse will drag the body of its dead rider, leaving traces of the corpse’s blood in the dust and mud. Make the vanquished look pale and panic-stricken in grief, their faces stricken with painful lines.”

From all these descriptions, one can understand how Leonardo was intrigued by the brutality of war and that his dark side was particularly from this event. And so, his passion for showing the cruelty was visible in his sketches of 1503, as he threw himself into this new commission.

Now, the immersion of Leonardo in his preparatory studies took a long time for him to paint. And this caused a severe dispute after he went to get his monthly fee, for which the cashier gave him a small fee. And as tension escalated, he raised money to give him back the commission, but the diplomat Piero Soderini explained to Leonardo to continue the work.

Leonardo’s proclivity for procrastination caused the contract to be revised in May 1504, which stipulated that the Battle of Anghiari painting should be completed by February 1505.

It said,

“Several months ago Leonardo, son of Ser Piero da Vinci, and a Florentine citizen, undertook to do a painting for the Sala del Consiglio grande, and seeing that this painting has already begun as a cartoon by the said Leonardo, he moreover having received on such account 35 Florine, and desiring that the work be concluded as soon as possible… The Signoria have resolved that Leonardo da Vinci is to have finished painting and brought it wholly to perfection by the end of next February without quibble or objection. And if Leonardo shall not have finished in the stipulated time, then the Signoria can compel him by whatever means appropriate to repay all the money he received in connection with his work, and Leonardo would be obliged to make over to the said Signoria as much as has been done.”

So soon after this contract, Leonardo started working, but as the deadline arrived, his painting was not even close to complete. A torrential downpour almost ruined his delicate oil brushstrokes in June. And it caused great leaks that overwhelmed the vessels to remove the water. Now, there is no information on whether he took commissions after the Battle of Anghiari, but he regularly wrote about storms.

Understanding the Meaning of the Battle of Anghiari.

The Battle of Anghiari showcases an event from history. The medieval hilltop town of Anghiari, located in the province of Arezzo, was the site of a famous battle in which Florentine troops, supported by the Pope, battled the Milanese army, which had recently conquered San Sepolcro and sought to expand the Duke of Milan’s Tuscany possessions.

Michelotto Attendolo, Giampaolo Orsini, and Nicholas Piccinino led their armies in the valley under Anghiari on the 29th of June 1440 (still known as “the valley of the battle” today). Ultimately, the Florentines won the battle.

Subject Matter Analysis of the Painting.

Leonardo depicted numerous battle moments in the early drawings for his painting of the Battle of Anghiari, including a cavalcade of infantry swarming into the scene, a Florentine troop arrival, and a Milanese battle standard being chased away. Nevertheless, the central section of the mural depicts three Florentine horsemen, grappling with Milan’s defeated but still determined general. Leonardo never finished his artwork, so the only information we can gather about it comes from sketches, and what Leonardo created is completely lost today.

In one of Leonardo’s preparatory sketches, the artist used sharp brown ink strokes to illustrate the fury of the horses and riders. As he whipped a lance, he sketched nine versions of a nude soldier in frenzied twists on the lower half of the painting. The drawing shows soldiers being trampled, dragged, and hurled by furious horsemen, just as he had described in his notebook. There is a brutality frenzied in the artwork, which is chaotic.

Expressions of fury in horses, a lion and a man by Leonardo da Vinci for The Battle of Anghiari
The Florentine Cavalry Red Chalk Study by Leonardo da Vinci

If you notice the facial expressions, Leonardo took great care to capture movements and lines, showing a realistic touch. As the old warrior stares down at him and shouts with rage, his bulging brown eyebrows furrowed and nose wrinkled. From the brows to the eyes to the mouth, Leonardo displayed mastery of conveying emotions with every single element of the face. Undoubtedly, his anatomical studies made him capable of showing expressions through facial muscles moving from lips to affect the nostrils and brows, which made the pictures more relatable and spine-chilling. To make an angry face of a warrior, Leonardo writes,

“The sides of the nose should have certain furrows, going in an arch from the nose and terminating at the edge of the eyes. Make the nostrils drawn up, causing these furrows, and the lips arched to disclose the upper teeth, with the teeth parted to shriek lamentations.”

Leonardo's Study of Two Warriors' Heads for the Battle of Anghiari

Now we have not seen the original Battle of Anghiari by da Vinci, but Vasari described it vividly,

“An old soldier in a red cap, crying out, grips the staff with one hand, and, raised a scimitar with the other, furiously aims a blow to cut off both the hands of those who, gnashing their teeth in the struggle, are striving in utmost fierceness to defend their banner. On the ground, between the legs of the horses, two figures are fighting together, and the one on the ground has over him a soldier who has raised his arm as high as possible, that this with a greater force he may plunge a dagger into his throat, to end his legs and arms, is doing what he can to escape death. It is not possible to describe the invention that Leonardo showed in the garments of the soldiers, all varied by him in different ways, and likewise in the helmet crests and other ornaments; not to mention the incredible mastery that he displayed in the forms and lineaments of the horses, which Leonardo, with their fiery spirit muscles, and shapely beauty, drew better than any other master.”

Opinions and Final Conclusion.

I skipped the formal analysis of the artwork since Leonardo’s the Battle of Aghiari is lost and we only know Peter Paul Rubens’ version. In spite of the fact that we do not know the exact version, we know that if it had survived, it would have become the next masterpiece of da Vinci like The Last Supper. The thorough multiplication of emotions, finest expressions and accurate lightening techniques through oil paint are few aspects of the artwork, which is the speciality of Leonardo, which we could have seen in the Battle of Anghiari.


1. The notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci by Leonardo da Vinci.

2. Leonardo da Vinci, The Biography by Walter Isaacson.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Why did Leonardo da Vinci paint the Battle of Anghiari?

Leonardo da Vinci painted the Battle of Anghiari as a commission by the leaders of Florence city to celebrate their victory over Milan in 1440. Leonardo da Vinci was a military engineer and had a closer perspective on the war, he created a profound artwork with the finest details of the figures.

Did Leonardo da Vinci complete Battle of Anghiari?

Leonardo completed the Battle of Anghiari as per Vasari’s description of the painting. However, the artist delayed the mural artwork for his study of the figures and his behaviour of being a procrastinator.

Was the Battle of Anghiari ever found?

Though there are several researches and theories to prove the existence of the Battle of Anghiari on the wall, the mural art piece has never been found.

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