Paolo Uccello

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Paolo Uccello (1397 – 10 December 1475), born Paolo di Dono, was an Italian painter and a mathematician who was notable for his pioneering work on visual perspective in art. Giorgio Vasari in his book Lives of the Artists wrote that Uccello was obsessed by his interest in perspective and would stay up all night in his study trying to grasp the exact vanishing point. He used perspective in order to create a feeling of depth in his paintings and not, as his contemporaries, to narrate different or succeeding stories. His best known works are the three paintings representing the battle of San Romano (for a long time these were wrongly entitled the "Battle of Sant' Egidio of 1416").

Paolo worked in the Late Gothic tradition, and emphasized colour and pageantry rather than the Classical realism that other artists were pioneering. His style is best described as idiosyncratic, and he left no school of followers. He has had some influence on twentieth century art (including the New Zealand painter Melvin Day) and literary criticism (e.g., in the "Vies imaginaires" by Marcel Schwob, "Uccello le poil" by Antonin Artaud and "O Mundo Como Ideia" by Bruno Tolentino).

Contents

Life

The sources for Paolo Uccello’s life are few: Giorgio Vasari’s biography, written 75 years after Paolo’s death, and a few contemporary official documents. Uccello was probably born in Florence in 1397. His tax declarations for some years indicate that he was born in 1397, but in 1446 he claimed to be born in 1396.[1] His nickname Uccello came from his fondness for painting birds. His father, Dono di Paolo, was a barber-surgeon from Pratovecchio near Arezzo; his mother’s name was Antonia.

At the age of ten, his was apprenticed to the famous sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, whose workshop was the premier centre for Florentine art at the time. Ghiberti's late-Gothic, narrative style and sculptural composition greatly influenced Paolo. It was also around this time that Paolo began his lifelong friendship with Donatello. In 1414 Uccello was admitted to the painters' guild Compagnia di San Luca and just one year later, in 1415, he joined the official painter's guild of Florence Arte dei Medici e degli Speziali.

According to Vasari, Uccello’s first painting was a Saint Anthony between the saints Cosmas and Damianus, a commission for the hospital of Lelmo. Next he painted two figures in the convent of Annalena. Shortly afterwards he painted three frescoes with scenes from the life of Saint Francis above the left door of the Santa Trinita church. For the Santa Maria Maggiore church he painted a fresco of the Annunciation. In this fresco, he painted a large building with columns in perspective. Vasari writes that people thought this was a great and beautiful achievement.

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