The Rout of San Romano
by PAOLO UCCELLO
THE love of the early Florentine painters for their craft, and their energy in
pursuing it, move the modern mind to wonder and applause.
These artists had
no time for the minor graces of painting, for melting color, tender sentiment,
and the charm of smooth textures-they conquered the stubborn forces of life
and the basic principles of art by will power and unremitting toil.
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to master the science of lmear perspective was Paolo Uccello, a barber’s son,
and a mathematician of distinction. During his lifetime, he was set down by
his more practical neighbors as a harmless crank, but inasmuch as his idio
syncrasies ran to graphs and abstractions, they were humorously condoned.
Vasari reports-and there is no reason to doubt him-that Uccello would stay
up all night with his studies, drawing polygons with eighty facets, and other
such oddities, and exclaiming to his wife, when she besought him to go to bed,
“Oh, what a delightful thing is this perspective!”
Uccello was absorbed in technical difficulties, in converging lines, fore
shortenings, and receding planes. He had little interest in religious subjects,
and introduced into painting, for the first time since the Pompei an friezes,
battle scenes and historical circumstances.
His Rout of San Romano, one of
three panels painted for the bedchamber of a Medici, to celebrate the defeat
of the Sienese by the Florentines at San Romano, in 1432, has long been
admired, and justly, for its quaintness, its childlike gaiety, and its naive play
But it would be a mistake to suppose that Uccello, intent on painting
a realistic battle picture, had blundered into a nursery masterpiece. He was a
scholar and a precisionist, fascinated by the wonder and youth of the Renais
sance; and his San Romano, alive with clashing planes and radiating lines,
is strangely modern, a precursor of cubism in its geometrical horses.
It is not
dramatic by reason of its truth to nature or war-the lmights are tin soldiers,
the steeds are hobby horses-it is a pattern of linear science and color con
structed by the most advanced technician of his time, an artist who contrived
by means of clear-cut design to give movement and rhythm to his fantastic