Painting Explorers: The Battle of San Romano

There are two sides to every story!

The Battle of San Romano was painted by Paolo Uccello around 1438-40, over 600 years ago. It’s a vivid, colourful painting of the battle fought between two feuding sides – Florence, on the left, and Siena on the right, in 1432. The figure in the middle is Niccolò da Mauruzi da Tolentino on his beautiful white horse, the leader of the victorious Florentine forces, you can see their symbol on the banner – the “Knot of Solomon”. 

It was a set of three paintings originally, showing different events that happened in the battle. The paintings were commissioned by a wealthy family from Florence, the winning side! Take a look at the Florentine army. Aren’t they very majestic-looking, draped in gold and bright colours? Do you think this was on purpose?

Paintings aren’t always completely truthful when telling stories about the past. They’re not like photographs nowadays, where you can see everything as it is in one moment. You can create a completely different story in paintings using a bit of “artistic licence”. Historians have to be really careful when looking at paintings to find out about the past. You can make portraits of people looking more beautiful than they really are, and the same goes for battle scenes like this.

Find out what happened in the battle in the painting, here’s the white horse telling you his story:

Ciao Bella! It’s all going crazy here! Two courageous armies – one from Florence, the other Siena – are battling for territory here in Italia! Uno momento! I just need to CHARRRGE!

Ha ha! Take that! They cannot fail to quiver in their boots at the sight of me! I am such a big strong horse! A charger, no less! And on my back is none other than Niccolò da Mauruzi da Tolentino. He’s like the big guy, the main man in charge of the Florentines. The army who WILL be winning this battle – oh yes! We shall be victorious!

Err, what do you mean? You don’t think Tolentino is the big guy? Well, just you look at his big hat! Red and Gold – and twice the size of his own head! Check it out! And check out our bling – all the gold and silver on our armour – It’s no wonder that those Sienese cowards run from us!

Ha! See how they drop their lances like matchsticks on the ground as they run – and see how the battlefield seems to stretch into the distance forever! Almost as impressive as me! And now, the battle can’t wait! Arrivederci amici!

Have a think about how paintings can tell different stories!

How else can we tell the history of something?

We can’t tell what happened in the Battle of San Romano just from this painting alone. How else do you think we can understand history? Do you think someone from the losing side would have recorded something, too? Would there be any official documents telling us what happened and how many soldiers died?

What about the losing side?

There are always two sides to every story. You might have heard that before from one of your parents! Imagine you are a Sienese solder in this painting. How would you feel after losing the battle? Can you try and paint this painting from their point of view? Have a go!

How would the winning side would be feeling here?

Imagine you are on the winning side now. How would you be feeling about winning the battle here? Would you feel sad about the losers, or would you celebrate?

Click on a painting below to explore more!

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 NG_logo_blackPainting Explorers in association with The National Gallery