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The Lost Battles: Leonardo, Michelangelo, and the Artistic Duel That Defined the Renaissanceby Jonathan Jones
Synopses & Reviews
From one of Britain’s most respected and acclaimed art historians, art critic of The Guardian—the galvanizing story of a sixteenth-century clash of titans, the two greatest minds of the Renaissance, working side by side in the same room in a fierce competition: the master Leonardo da Vinci, commissioned by the Florentine Republic to paint a narrative fresco depicting a famous military victory on a wall of the newly built Great Council Hall in the Palazzo Vecchio, and his implacable young rival, the thirty-year-old Michelangelo.
We see Leonardo, having just completed The Last Supper, and being celebrated by all of Florence for his miraculous portrait of the wife of a textile manufacturer. That painting—the Mona Lisa—being called the most lifelike anyone had ever seen yet, more divine than human, was captivating the entire Florentine Republic.
And Michelangelo, completing a commissioned statue of David, the first colossus of the Renaissance, the archetype hero for the Republic epitomizing the triumph of the weak over the strong, helping to reshape the public identity of the city of Florence and conquer its heart.
In The Lost Battles, published in England to great acclaim (“Superb”—The Observer; “Beguilingly written”—The Guardian), Jonathan Jones brilliantly sets the scene of the time—the politics; the world of art and artisans; and the shifting, agitated cultural landscape.
We see Florence, a city freed from the oppressive reach of the Medicis, lurching from one crisis to another, trying to protect its liberty in an Italy descending into chaos, with the new head of the Republic in search of a metaphor that will make clear the glory that is Florence, and seeing in the commissioned paintings the expression of his vision.
Jones reconstructs the paintings that Leonardo and Michelangelo undertook—Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari, a nightmare seen in the eyes of the warrior (it became the first modern depiction of the disenchantment of war) and Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina, a call to arms and the first great transfiguration of the erotic into art. Jones writes about the competition; how it unfolded and became the defining moment in the transformation of “craftsman” to “artist”; why the Florentine government began to fall out of love with one artist in favor of the other; and how—and why—in a competition that had no formal prize to clearly resolve the outcome, the battle became one for the hearts and minds of the Florentine Republic, with Michelangelo setting out to prove that his work, not Leonardo’s, embodied the future of art. Finally, we see how the result of the competition went on to shape a generation of narrative paintings, beginning with those of Raphael.
A riveting exploration into one of history’s most resonant exchanges of ideas, a rich, fascinating book that gives us a whole new understanding of an age and those at its center.
"In 1503, Leonardo da Vinci, already famous for his towering genius, groundbreaking drawings of human anatomy, and scientific achievements, was commissioned to paint a mural in Florence's Great Council Hall memorializing the Battle of Anghiari. As Leonardo was planning the contours of his painting, a young and less well-known sculptor and artist, Michelangelo, was commissioned to paint a mural of another battle famous in Florentine history, the Battle of Cascina, in the same room. As art critic Jones points out in this energetic, fast-paced, though sometimes repetitive, tale of rivalry and genius, this event became a competition to discover which of the two was 'the greatest artist in the world.' Leonardo's painting depicts the reality of war in all its horror and grows out of his own experience witnessing military battles. Michelangelo had never been in combat or seen its aftermath, and his scenes of combat are more cerebral. While Michelangelo's The Battle of Cascina gravely and compassionately depicts the humanity of war, Leonardo's The Battle of Anghiari portrays the horrifying images of the battle's madness. Jones's dazzling study of this little discussed competition illustrates the ways that these two great artists competed to assert their imaginations and personalities, giving birth to the Renaissance idea of the artist as godlike creator rather than mere artisan reshaping existing materials. Agent: Janklow & Nesbit. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From one of Britain's most acclaimed art historians, art critic of The Guardian—the galvanizing story of the defining moment of the Renaissance: the two greatest artists of their time, commissioned by different people, but working side by side in the same room, a competition out of which would arise the new idea of artistic "genius."
In this rich, fascinating book, published in England to great acclaim ("Superb," —The Observer), Jonathan Jones explores this fierce artistic duel between Leonardo and Michelangelo. Here is the master, Leonardo da Vinci, commissioned at age fifty-two by the Florentine Republic to paint a fresco depicting a famous military victory on a wall of the Great Council Hall in the Palazzo Vecchio. And, with an identical commission from Machiavelli, Leonardo's implacable young rival, the thirty-year-old Michelangelo, working on the same wall. Jones writes brilliantly of their "battle," in which Leonardo painted The Battle of Anghiari and Michelangelo The Battle of Cascina—the legendary "lost" masterpieces—and which led to the recognition, for the first time, of artists as godlike creators of the "new," a notion that still holds true today. A riveting exploration into one of history's most resonant exchanges of ideas.
About the Author
JONATHAN JONES is art critic for The Guardian and writes for numerous art magazines. He appears regularly on the BBC and gives talks at the Tate Modern.
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