Scholars consider Pollaiuolo’s Battle of the Nudes one of the most influential Renaissance prints for a few reasons: it was among the largest engravings of the fifteenth century created in Florence; it was one of the earliest known engravings to include an artist’s full name; and it was also one of the first Renaissance depictions of the fully nude male.
Additionally, and arguably most importantly, there was its depiction of the figure—it was one of the first Renaissance works to present man moving in a variety of dynamic ways, which also showed how muscles and faces behave when active. Many scholars actually see Pollaiuolo’s work functioning as a demonstration piece; a model for other artists for depicting the figure. Pollaiuolo’s print was broadly disseminated. Albrecht Dürer, for one, is known to have used figures from Battle as models.
The details of Battle are particularly interesting. The central figures mirror each other. As with the figures themselves, there is a real diversity in the appearance and use of different weapons (swords, daggers, axes, and bows). Part of the work seems to illustrate a battle’s progression from initial clash (center) to the moment of death (bottom right).
It’s possible to say that this was the beginning—or a major moment at least—of Western modernity’s interest in the exactitude of the moving—or at least non-static— figure. Looking back, there is the example of Greek Art. What happened afterwards? A few bullet points: Bernini’s David, Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa, Eakins’ Wrestlers, and then, well, the seemingly endless variety of photographs and films focused on our bodies and their activities.
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory