Antonio Pollauiolo’s Battle of The Naked Men By: Mounir Ziad



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Mounir Ziad Research Paper

Mounir Ziad

ARH2051.0M1

11/24/2021

Antonio Pollauiolo’s Battle of The Naked Men

By: Mounir Ziad

Created between the years of 1465-1475, Antonio Pollauiolo’s engraving piece, "Battle of The Naked Men" is regarded as one of the most quintessential pieces of the Italian Renaissance. Working as a multidisciplinary artist in the Italian Renaissance, Pollaiuolo was able to display a myriad of skills ranging from his philosophical knowledge to the practical application of his goldsmithing in the creation of this piece. Battle of The Naked Men was created as a benchmark piece for the art of engraving and a self-portrait for the very nature of its creation. Its subject reflects the artist himself, Antonio Pollauiuolo, and those he influenced/the work he left behind, and their inherently chaotic nature.



Before tackling the possible tangible meanings left in Pollauiolo’s work, it is crucial to understand the formal elements of the piece as they are the framework for the development of iconography. Pollaiuolo utilizes Ancient Greek practices in the construction of his engraving and figures, whilst maintaining a sense of modern class and “objective” form. In his study on Pollauiolo’s Battle of Ten Nude Men, Edward Olszewski speaks on the development of the copper plate, whether its motivations were to aesthetically please, and if the changes were done by Pollaiuolo himself. Edward writes, “Langdale argued that the reworking of the copper panel was not an attempt to strengthen a worn template, but was aesthetically motivated, with the use of a more viscous ink, and, therefore, likely the work of Pollaiuolo himself.” (Olszewski 2009, 9) Deductions utilized when attempting to understand the work are done through the lens of the little character knowledge, we know of Pollauiuolo and his background. Furthermore, the quality of construction regarding the engravings of the nude body was second to none during Pollaiuolo’s era. In his analysis of the piece, Joseph Manca describes the work as a “Virtuoso Demonstration” of how one should go about the construction of the nude body through engraving techniques. Manca writes, “for the work—which was influential, and indeed seems to have served as a model for other artists—is a tour de force of engraving technique and the representation of figures in vigorous motion.”(Manca 2001, 28) The stylistic choices made when deciding the motions, expressions, and positions of the men in the piece highlight its primitive tone and allows one to understand the piece from a lens of its anthropology. Journalist David Landau states the works necessity as it relates to the Florentine Renaissance, showing influence from classical Greek works in not only its premise, but also quality of image. In an article describing the Battle of The Naked Men, Landau speaks deeply of the technical aspects of the 48 impressions and their wear over time. Landau states, “The sharpness and definition of the illustrations allows one easily to follow the discussion on the process of wear that affected the plate over its lifetime, and to connect such information with other important data - such as, instance, watermarks - much more precisely than is normally possible when consulting an exhibition catalogue.”(Landau 2003, 408) Landau’s perception advocates for developing artistic perspective of the piece based upon its ware and how the piece’s ware reflects its construction and influence. Pollaiuolo’s formation of the nude body and deployed methods of engraving reflect a deeper appreciation of his influences and the need for precision when depicting such a complex subject.

Furthermore, the pieces formal elements may also be utilized to understand the meaningful symbolism, artistic context, and overall Iconography of the work. By comparing the piece to similar works of different eras, one can begin to piece together historical context for the piece’s creation, influence, and possible ongoing narratives within the piece. A commonly used tool for this piece would be its subject comparisons to a multitude of Greek mythology and how that may have affected the formal elements of construction as well. Following the study done by Edward Olszewski, Edward goes onto speak about the subject of the piece, citing Erwin Panofsky’s suggestion that Pollaiuolo was portraying Titus Manilus. However, Olszewski also interprets the piece through the lens of another Greek tale, Jason, and the Golden Fleece. The attempt to understand the work through the lens of the religious folklore in Pollaiuolo’s area illustrates the complexity within the subject of the piece and allows one to understand the context of the work in a complete manner. Erwin writes, “Erwin Panofsky did not publish his suggestion that Pollaiuolo's engraving depicted Titus Manilus who earned the name of Torquate by slaying a Gaul and taking the barbarian's necklace as a trophy. In 1955, John Phillips suggested a subject for Pollaiuolo's engraving of Ten Battling Nude Men as the adventure of Jason and Medea based on three sources.” (Olszewski 10, 2009) The comparisons drawn between the piece and Greek mythology are endless as the cultural influence the Greeks had upon the Italian Renaissance is unquestioned. By drawing such conclusions or acknowledging the influence of such folktales on the construction of the subject of the piece, one can gain a better understanding of Pollaiuolo’s perspective during the formation of the pieces technical and artistic elements. During his analysis of the work, Michael Vickers details that the Greek figure Hercules was the main source of inspiration for the dress and activities taking place in Pollaiuolo’s work. For example, Vicker goes onto state that “Hercules” is present in the work, wielding an “axe above his head” (Vicker 1977, 182). This information provides not only a historical context for the work, but also allows for one to better understand the technical formation of the pieces through Pollaiuolo’s influences. Understanding a persona within the piece as “Hercules” merely adds another layer of context for the piece. The variety of the influences stated and their inherent draw towards mysticism and violence speaks upon the chaotic brand of art Pollaiuolo, and his contemporaries were creating. The Battle of the Naked Men is an inherently mystic yet violent piece as it draws from the often seen as pure human figure and depicts it participating in seemingly degrading acts such as violence. The piece itself can be seen as a chocolate dipped strawberry, attempting to cover the inherently pure with the inherently impure, a practice in spiritual gymnastics. Considering the philosophical implications of the piece, conclusions drawn from possible religious narratives of surrounding historical mythology begins to make sense in the framework of the piece’s construction.

To further develop one’s perspective of Pollaiuolo’s piece, his artistic schema and development regarding the elements of this piece are critical to understand. Pollaiuolo’s upbringing, philosophical ideals and interests can all be seen as relevant when discussing the formation of any of his pieces, as they may give leeway into the intended constructions of the work. In an intricate account of Antonio Pollaiuolo and his brother’s life written by Laurence Kanter, one can learn several insights relevant to The Battle of The Naked Men. Kanter Laurance illustrates the teenage years, artistic motivation, and environmental context of Antonio Pollaiuolo. Laurence details the works created within Antonio’s workshop along with the motivations surrounding him. Antonio and his brother were more of artistic companions and rivals than organic, typical family members. Both Antonio and his brother explored sculpture, painting, printmaking, goldsmithing and general design. The utility of the information presented through researching Antonio Pollaiuolo’s personal life can be found once attempting to extrapolate and understand specific design choices, subjects of interest and meanings behind his work. Laurence details, “The middle decades of the fifteenth century… study of quattrocento Florentine culture.” (Laurence 2006, 279) The wide-ranging available intellectual influences Pollaiuolo had at his disposal from a young age can be seen throughout the construction of the work. The intricate developments of the engravings reflect his childhood encompassing life-long practice of his craft. Furthermore, the copper plates used to develop the piece and the little gold utilized with specific variations can be linked back to the blacksmithing roots of Antonio and his brother. David Landau states that by speaking on the influence the work had through its contemporary copies and derivations. Landau states that most prints can be attributed to the artist and his circle, and that each one has been studied over centuries. Landau goes onto state the works necessity as it relates to the Florentine Renaissance, showing influence from classical Greek works in not only its subject, but also quality of image. The consistent reflection of Greek art, philosophy and folklore is a common aspect of many art pieces from the Italian Renaissance and considering Pollaiuolo’s philosophical background it comes as no surprise.

In Conclusion, Battle of The Naked Men was created as a benchmark piece for the art of engraving and a self-portrait for the very nature of its creation. By incorporating an understanding of Pollaiuolo’s childhood practices and methodology of developing his skillset, one can better understand the importance of Pollaiuolo’s work as it relates to his contemporaries and the artwork from his era. Furthermore, by incorporating and understanding of the mythology and historical influences of Pollaiuolo couple with a Utilization of the testimonies and research papers across history focusing on the pieces, one can better understand how the art reflects the artist himself, Antonio Pollaiuolo, and those he influenced/the work he left behind, and their inherently chaotic nature.

Annotated Bibliography

Vickers, Michael. “A Greek Source for Antonio Pollaiuolo's Battle of ... - JSTOR.” CAA, June, 1977. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3049629 pp. 182-187

Vickers article will be quintessential in forming my understanding of the influences used and culture surrounding the creation of my work. Vickers begins by mentioning the inspiration Pollaiuolo may have received via the paintings on Greek vases, such as The Battle. However, Vickers goes onto illustrate that the creation of Pollaiuolo’s work may have been solely influenced by a singular artist known as the Niobid Painter. Vickers details that the Greek figure Hercules was the main source of inspiration for the dress and activities taking place in Pollaiuolo’s work. For example, Vicker goes onto state that “Hercules” is present in the work, wielding an “axe above his head”. This information provides not only a historical context for the work, but also allows for one to better understand the technical formation of the pieces through Pollaiuolo’s influences.

Manca, Joseph. “Passion and Primitivism in Antonio Pollaiuolo's ... - JSTOR.” The University of Chicago Press, 2001. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23206983 pp. 28-36

Manca argues that the works unique stylistic approach with regards to its technical construction and subject of choice was purposeful in its academic value, as Pollaiuolo provided a template for future similar artistic endeavors. Manca describes the work as a “Virtuoso Demonstration” of how one should go about the construction of the nude body through engraving techniques. Manca goes onto state that the commonly sought after explicit direct historical influence on the event regarding specific parables discounts this possibility and takes away from the original technique on display. Furthermore, Manca argues that the idea of this work being a piece of art for the masses due to Manca’s love of art would be a foreign concept to the artist and his contemporaries. Mancas arguments towards the invalid approaches of meaning assignment done by art historians and critics is a crucial alternative perspective in helping one understand a separate practical historical lens on Pollaiuolo’s motivations.

OLSZEWSKI, EDWARD J. “Bring on the Clones: Pollaiuolo's Battle of Ten Nude Men.” IRSA, 2009. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25702880 pp. 9-38

Olszewski’s study on Pollaiuolo’s Battle of Ten Nude Men is a multi-faceted interpretation, contextualization, and historical examination on the work. Olszewski begins by revealing several of the academic mysteries behind the piece, stating the uncertainty of whether it was a commission given to Pollaiuolo, the number of impressions done and the usage of the original plate. Olszewski goes onto speak about the various elements of the piece, starting at the physical aspects of the engraving itself. Olszewski speaks on the development of the copper plate, whether its motivations were to aesthetically please, and if the changes were done by Pollaiuolo himself. Deductions utilized when attempting to understand the work are done through the lens of the little character knowledge, we know of Pollaiuolo himself. Olszewski goes onto speak about the subject of the piece, citing Erwin Panofsky’s suggestion that Pollaiuolo was portraying Titus Manilus. However, Olszewski goes onto interpret the piece through the lens of another Greek tale, Jason and the Golden Fleece. The attempt to understand the work through the lens of the religious folklore in Pollaiuolo’s area illustrates the complexity within the subject of the piece and allows one to understand the context of the work in a complete manner.

Landau, David. “Pollaiuolo's Battle of the Nudes - JSTOR.” Print Quarterly Publications, December 2003. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41826494 pp. 408-412

Landau details a review and case-study of the newly constructed exhibition in the Cleveland Museum of Art exploring Pollaiuolo’s Renaissance contributions, specifically relating to the Battle of the Nudes. Landau begins by speaking on the influence the work had through its contemporary copies and derivations. Landau states that most prints can be attributed to the artist and his circle, and that each one has been studied over centuries. Landau goes onto state the works necessity as it relates to the Florentine Renaissance, showing influence from classical Greek works in not only its premise, but also quality of image. In the article, Landau speaks deeply of the technical aspects of the 48 impressions and their wear over time. This information will be crucial in understanding the link between the artistic, technical, and historical attributes of the piece, forming the narrative it holds in art history.



Kanter, Laurence. “The Pollaiuolo Brothers: The Arts of of Rome, She ... - JSTOR.” Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd, April 2006. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20074379 pp. 279-281

Laurance illustrates the teenage years, artistic motivation, and environmental context of Antonio Pollaiuolo. Laurence details the works created within Antonio’s workshop along with the motivations surrounding him. Antonio and his brother were more of artistic companions and rivals than organic, typical family members. Both Antonio and his brother explored sculpture, painting, printmaking, goldsmithing and general design. The utility of the information presented through researching Antonio Pollaiuolo’s personal life can be found once attempting to extrapolate and understand specific design choices, subjects of interest and meanings behind his work. For example, Antonio’s artistic preferences through the design of The Battle of Naked Men, such as the method of construction and purposeful material selection, can be explored through the lens of his youth and education.
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