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The great battles

Because of its central position between Rome and northern Italy, the land of Tuscany has lived through bitter battles since ancient times: Rome's conquest of Etruria, the invasions of the Lombards and the Franks and the social and economic development by Matilda of Tuscany. From the Municipalities to the Seignory, from the Seignory to the Principality, the blood of the Guelphs and Ghibellines bathes the Tuscan land. From the battle of Monteaperti to the battle of Campaldino, the places that have witnessed the great battles do not leave any traces of memory, but they can be reread through the frescoes, statues and artefacts kept in the museums.

In Pienza, in Palazzo Piccolomini, there is the Sala d'Armi which contains knights' weapons, shields, helmets and armour. In the Palazzo Comunale of San Gimignano, there are frescoes depicting the battle of Campaldino, fought in 1289 between Guelphs and Ghibellines. A key event for the progressive affirmation of Florence over Tuscany, was the battle in which Dante Alighieri and Cecco Angiolieri participated. A diorama of the battle can be seen at the Museo Casa di Dante (Dante's House Museum) in Florence.

Diorama della battaglia di Campaldino
Diorama della battaglia di Campaldino, Firenze, Casa Dante

From the Tower of Palazzo Chigi in Siena, you can see the area of the Battle of Monteaperti that took place in 1260, a place that witnessed Siena's victory over Florence, the only time in its history. On the eve of the battle of Monteaperti, the Sienese made a solemn vow before the Madonna dagli occhi grossi (Big-eyed Madonna): they offered her the city in exchange for her protection. The painting is now kept in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Siena.

La Madonna dagli occhi grossi
Maestro di Tressa, "Madonna con gli occhi grossi", dettaglio. Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

In 1418, the Val d'Orcia witnessed the siege of the Rocca di Tentennano by the Sienese, who forced Cocco Salimbeni to surrender, while in 1553 Montalcino endured a siege by the troops of Charles V, allies of the Medici family and led by Don Garcia of Toledo.
In 1432, in Montopoli Valdarno, in the province of Pisa, the battle of San Romano was fought between the Florentine troops of Niccolò da Tolentino and those of Siena, commanded by Francesco Piccinino. Three splendid frescoes by Paolo Uccello commemorating the battle are kept in Florence in the Uffizi, the Louvre and the National Gallery in London. Montopoli was also a point of contention by Lucca and by the attention of Castruccio Castracani, as the Arch named after it bears witness to, until 1349 when the population decided to surrender to Florence. 

Arco di Castruccio Castracani a Montopoli
Torre e arco di Castruccio Castracani, Montopoli Valdarno

In Florence, in the Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio, the chronicles tell the story of a great battle in the history of art, which took place between Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti, who both summoned to fresco the Council Room. The scenes depicted were to evoke two fundamental battles for the history of the Florentine Republic: the Battle of Anghiari, fought in 1440 between the Milanese troops of the Visconti family and Florence alongside the Serenissima Venetian Republic and the Papal State, and that of Cascina, which took place in 1364 between the Pisan and Florentine troops. The artistic dispute resulted in the creation of a beautiful fresco by Leonardo, but due to the experimental technique used, the fresco deteriorated quickly. Evidence of Leonardo's work remains in the writings, the copy by Rubens now exhibited in the Louvre and the Tavola Doria, a copy that the family of the same name had possessed since the 17th century and sold in 1939. Michelangelo, however, never did the work and the reasons for this are unknown. Years later, Vasari, a great admirer of Leonardo, was called to depict another great battle, the victory of Cosimo I at "Marciano della Chiana". 

Giorgio Vasari, affresco della battaglia di Marciano
Giorgio Vasari, "La battaglia di Marciano della Chiana", detta anche di Scannagallo, Firenze, Palazzo Vecchio, Salone dei Cinquecento

There has never been any certainty over whether Vasari painted the fresco on top of Leonardo's deteriorated masterpiece, or through a space between the walls to separate and save the previous fresco. In a detail of the battle of Marciano, there is a soldier hoisting a flag on which the word "seek find" is written. Fantasy and legend have met together up until the present day, creating a sort of desired enigma, like in Dan Brown's famous book, Inferno. The writing was on a green flag held by the Florentine rebels and the battle was the beginning of the end of the city of Siena, which was conquered by Florence. The chronicles of the times tell us about young anti-Medici Florentine rebels who fought alongside the Sienese and the French, to whom flags glorifying Dante's verses were given: “Libertà vo cercando, ch’è sì cara” (in the vernacular, meaning "I am looking for freedom, which is so dear"). So that "seek find" can be explained as a symbol of freedom from the tyranny of the Medici family for Florence, a freedom that was paid for dearly with defeat, imprisonment and death for treason.

  • Progetto finanziato a valere sui fondi Legge n. 77 del 20 febbraio 2006 “Misure speciali di tutela e fruizione dei siti italiani di interesse culturale, paesaggistico e ambientale, inseriti nella “lista del patrimonio mondiale”, posti sotto la tutela dell’UNESCO”