Fine Artists: Paolo Uccello Italian Painter 1397-1475

Paolo Uccello painting "Equestrian Portrait of John Hawkwood"Paolo Uccello was an Italian Renaissance painter who was notable for his pioneering work on visual perspective in art. Paolo Uccello was one of the first people to use perspective in his paintings. 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. Paolo Uccello worked in the Late Gothic tradition, and emphasized color and pageantry rather than the Classical realism that other artists were pioneering. His style is best described as idiosyncratic, and Paolo Uccello left no school of followers. Paolo Uccello was born in 1397. He was the son of a barber, and lived in Florence.

Paolo Uccello's real name was Paolo di Dono, but he changed his name to Uccello, meaning "bird" in Italian, because of his love for animals. His father, Dono di Paolo, was a barber-surgeon from Pratovecchio near Arezzo; his mother’s name was Antonia. At the age of ten, Paolo was apprenticed to the famous sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, whose workshop was the premier center 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 Lucca and just one year later, in 1415, he joined the official painter's guild of Florence Arte dei Medici e degli Speziali.

Uccello was always poor because money did not matter to him; only his paintings did. Uccello's first great achievement was the Equestrian Portrait of John Hawkwood (shown here). Proof of Uccello’s obsession with perspective are his drawings in the Uffizi of objects which he made look transparent in order to be able to show them in their stereo metric complexity.

Paolo Uccello painting "The Rout of San Romano"Nothing survives of Ucello's contribution to the mosaics of San Marco in Venice, but his frescoes of the Genesis in the Chiostro Verde of Santa Maria Novella in Florence show that he was a follower of Ghiberti and that he was firmly rooted in the International Gothic style. It comes therefore as a great surprise to note his change of direction in the 1430s. Developing an intense interest in perspective under the influence of Masaccio’s and Donatello’s works, Paolo Uccello became engrossed with developing the new science of perspective in painting.

In Uccello's painting The Rout of San Romano (shown here), we see an episode from Florentine history, still topical when the picture was painted, the rout of San Romano in 1432, when Florentine troops defeated their enemies in one of the many battles between the Italian factions. Both horses and men look a little wooden, almost like toys, and the whole gay picture seems very remote from the reality of war. The painter was so fascinated by the new possibilities of his art that he did everything to make his figures stand out in space as if they were carved and not painted. Uccello obviously took great pains to represent the various' pieces of armor which litter the ground in correct foreshortening.

Paolo Uccello painting 'St. George and the Dragon"Paolo Uccello's greatest pride was probably the figure of the fallen warrior lying on the ground, the foreshortened representation of which must have been most difficult. No such figure had been painted before and, though it looks rather too small in relation to the other figures, we can imagine what a stir it must have caused. We find traces all over the picture of the interest which Uccello took in perspective and of the spell it exerted over his mind.

Even the broken lances lying on the ground are so arranged that they point towards their common 'vanishing point'. It is this near mathematical arrangement which is partly responsible for the artificial appearance of the stage on which the battle seems to take place.

A Gothicizing tendency of Uccello's art is nowhere more apparent than in Saint George and the Dragon (shown here). We know that Uccello was married to omassa Malifici by 1453, because in that year Donato (named after Donatello) was born, and in 1456 his wife gave birth to Antonia.

In 1465 Uccello was in Urbino with his son Donato, where he was engaged until 1469 working for the Confraternity of Corpus Domini, a brotherhood of laymen. In his Florentine tax return of August 1469 Paolo Uccello declared: “I find myself old and ailing, my wife is ill, and I can no longer work.” In his last years, he was a lonesome, forgotten man, afraid of hardship in life. Paolo di Dono Uccello made his testament on 11 November 1475 and died shortly afterwards at the age of 78 on 10 December 1475 at the hospital of Florence.

Paolo Uccello was buried in his father’s tomb in the Florentine church of Santo Spirito. With his precise, analytical mind he tried to apply a scientific method to depict objects in three-dimensional space. In particular, some of his studies of the perspective foreshortening of the torus are preserved, and one standard display of drawing skill was his depictions of the mazzocchio. The perspective in his paintings has influenced famous painters such as Piero della Francesca, Albrecht Dürer and Leonardo da Vinci, to name a few.
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Paolo Uccello
Artist
Paolo Uccello was an Italian Renaissance painter who was notable for his pioneering work on visual perspective in art. Paolo Uccello was one of the first people to use perspective in his paintings.