Bertoldo di Giovanni (ca. 1440–1491)
Battle, ca. 1480–85
17 3/4 × 39 1/8 in. (45 × 99.5 cm)
Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence (258B)
Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali; photo Mauro Magliani
Bertoldo's largest bronze is an adaptation of an ancient sarcophagus that depicts a battle between Roman soldiers and barbarians. The sarcophagus was severely damaged long before Bertoldo set eyes on it, but he reconstructed the scene of organized chaos by following what was left in the ancient example. However, instead of repeating the narrative of Romans attacking foreigners, clearly identified by their costume in the sarcophagus, here all of the soldiers attack one another without any obvious underlying logic or clear identification. At the center of the melee, for example, the largest warrior wears both the helmet of the god Hermes and the lion skin of the hero Hercules. Bertoldo created a scene with an unfixed narrative, thereby encouraging discussion among viewers attempting to discern its subject.
The Battle originally decorated the Florentine palazzo of Lorenzo de' Medici, Bertoldo's principal patron and the de facto ruler of Florence, as did the Crucifixion relief (also included in the exhibition).