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Restorer Paul Ackroyd talks us through some of the challenges he encountered while working with Uccello's 15th-century battlefield scene.
In this episode, Restorer Paul Ackroyd assesses the 'before' state of the painting and shows us how, after removing the discoloured varnish, the gleaming whites and shiny silvers emerge.
About the painting
This is one of three large battle scenes Paolo Uccello painted in the 1440s; the others are now in the Louvre, Paris and the Uffizi, Florence. All show episodes from the Battle of San Romano on 1 June 1432 – an important battle in Florence’s war against Lucca, Milan and Siena over access to the port of Pisa.
Before Paul's conservation work, it was rather hard to follow what was going on in the large and busy painting, partly because it was much darker than when it was painted. The Florentine commander, Niccolò da Tolentino, rides a grey charger and wears a red and gold hat. He leads a cavalry charge from the left, while at the right a knight on a grey horse fights off three others.
Uccello was very interested in linear perspective and here we can see him experimenting. The broken lances in the foreground make a grid-like pattern and scattered pieces of armour are painted at various angles. Cleaning and retouching will restore the three-dimensional effect of the middle ground that has been lost under the discoloured varnish and previous conservation attempts.