The Day the Renaissance Was Saved
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The Day the Renaissance Was Saved

A single afternoon can change the course of history. So Niccolo Capponi argues in this deeply researched and ground-breaking book on the little-known battle of Anghiari, which occurred on June 29th 1440 in a hilltop village near Florence --- a battle that would have far-reaching consequences for Western history, art, and thought.

In the early fifteenth century, the principal powers of Northern Italy --- the Duchy of Milan and the Republic of Venice --- were continually jockeying for control over the region. The conflicts came to head in 1440, when Florence and the Papal States threw their support behind Venice, forming the Italian League. And on June 29, the larger Milanese army faced down the Italian League at Anghiari --- and lost.

The victory of the Italian League --- due in part to Florentine military strategy devised by one of author Niccolo Capponi's ancestors --- allowed Cosimo de' Medici to establish the Medicis as the city's leading family and to create a balance of power in the region that would prepare the ground for the great flowering of art and thought that is now known as the Renaissance. (The de' Medici family itself would be the patron of Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci.)

But that's not all: there's also the true story of a lost Da Vinci painting in the mix. In 1505, Da Vinci was commissioned to commemorate the battle with a giant fresco (three times larger than "The Last Supper") at the Palazzo Vecchio --- where Michelangelo, Da Vinci's bitter rival, was painting a fresco on the opposite wall. It was the only time the two artists met. Da Vinci's painting was subsequently considered lost forever until Italian researcher Maurizio Seracini (who is mentioned in The Da Vinci Code) discovered it had been painted over by another Florentine master, Giorgio Vasari. and Seracini is working on uncovering it, meaning we're on the verge of seeing a masterpiece that's been hidden for over four hundred and fifty years.

Capponi weaves the story of this lost painting into the narrative of the battle, as well giving context on the development of humanist thought, the political intrigues of the time, and military tactics-- the battle of Anghiari was fought largely by mercenaries, leading Machiavelli to write wryly, in his own history of the battle, that only one soldier died that day.

This is military history, art history, and political history rolled into one, with a heavy dose of the ever-fascinating Medicis, from a scholar whose family schemed, plotted, and funded the creation of masterpieces right alongside them.

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