Picasso's Guernica and Uccello's Battle of San Romano : Different Images of War

Topics: Florence, Pablo Picasso, House of Medici Pages: 5 (1780 words) Published: March 12, 2006
Since the beginning of history, conflict has occurred between people and groups of people. Eventually, people developed the organization to form armies and go to war against one another. Throughout the ages, as artists portrayed images of war, attitudes have changed. Guernica by Pablo Picasso and The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello are both about war, and are both regarding a specific incident in war, the images produced are very different. Due to the differing styles of these battles, the nature of the artistic movement of the time, as well as political and cultural influences of the time, Picasso's Guernica and Uccello's Battle of San Romano portray remarkably contrasting images of the experience of war, which vary from a chivalrous episode of combat to a horrifying terrible event of total chaotic destruction.

The actual battle of San Romano took place in the course of a war between Florence and the Visconti of Milan and Siena, their ally (Borsi, 308). It was a short battle, lasting only three hours (Borsi, 310), and, although it was quite a bloody battle, the outcome was somewhat uncertain. However, Florentine sources made it a great victory (Borsi, 308), and Cosimo de Medici commissioned the painting to celebrate the triumph of the Florence forces. Such a move was undoubtedly rooted in political motives; Cosimo had just returned from exile and was eager to regain his power in Florence. The painting was to be placed in a room in his palace that was frequently used for public business affairs, and citizens and clients could subsequently view the painting and become aware of Cosimo's concern for the fortunes of Florence. The painting portrays images of a calm, organized battle taking place between two armies of toy soldier-like warriors amidst the tapestry-like setting of an orange grove, while oblivious peasants in the background work diligently in their field.

The incident which Picasso refers to in Guernica is of a different sort altogether. In the year 1937, German bombers in the service of Spanish fascists performed an air raid on the Basque town of Guernica, during the Spanish Civil War. This was the world's first bombing of civilians, and more than 1600 people were killed, as well as hundreds wounded (Stokstad, 1059). Picasso, a Spaniard, was living in Paris at the time, and read about the incident in a newspaper, which featured full black and white pictures. Picasso had been asked to contribute to the Spanish Pavillion at the Paris International Exposition, and he had found his subject. His enormous canvas, almost 12' by 26', seems like a history painting, but it does not describe the events in the same way that a normal history painting does. There are no planes air bombs, and no portrayal of any sort of regional scene, and it is neither narrative nor figurative (Ultimate Picasso, 315). A horse in the centre, distinguished by a bulky mass and anguished complexity not possessed by the other figures, dominates the canvas (Oppler, 283). Distorted women, one trapped in a burning house and one clutching her dead child, both scream in agony and anguish at the sky. All the other figures in the painting are equally distorted and disturbing.

Because the very nature of the battles was very different, the images contained therein are very different as well. The attack on Guernica was an unprovoked air raid on civilians, and showed no adherence to the rules of war. As citizens fled the inferno that was their town, low-flying fighter planes gunned them down as they ran. Picasso wanted to show the terror and dismay that he felt about the attack, and his figures well emulate this, with their chaotic distress and violent reactions. Picasso painted Guernica as a political statement against the cruelty of war, and was quoted as saying, "No, painting is not made to decorate apartments. It is an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy." Ucello's San Romano, on the other hand, was...

Bibliography: Arnason, H. H. History of Modern Art. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1998.
Borsi, Franco and Stefano. Paolo Uccello. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1994.
Cheney, Sheldon. The Story of Modern Art. New York: Viking Press, 1961.
Janson, H. W. and Anthony. History of Art. New York: Prentice Hall Inc and H. N. Abrams, 1997.
Leal, Brigitte, et al. The Ultimate Picasso. New York: H. N. Abrams, 2000.
Oppler, Ellen C. Picasso 's Guernica. New York: Norton & Company Ltd., 1988.
Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History, 2nd ed. New York: Prentice Hall Inc. and H. N. Abrams, 2002.
Turner, Richard A. Renaissance Florence: The Invention of a New Art. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1997.
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