Giorgio Vasari: Battle of Marciano (1570-1571)


(Palazzo Vecchio Museum, Florence, Italy)


A fresco made by the Italian artist Giorgio Vasari (1511 – 1574). The battle of Marciano (or known as the battle of Scannagallo) was a part of the Italian war of 1551-1559. The Italian wars were fought between France and the Habsburg empire over control of Italy, with the various Italian states allied to one of the two parties. In 1554, duke Cosimo I de' Medici of Florence, ally of the Habsburg empire, launched an attack on the Republic of Siena, an ally of France). The Florentine army, reinforced with German and Spanish Habsburg troops) quickly laid siege to the city of Siena. As the city was not entirely surrounded by the Florentine army, Sienese troops managed to escape the city and join forces for French troops. After some skirmishes, both armies met on August 2, 1554 at Marciano della Chiana. The resulting battle lasted only 2 hours and was decided by a large infantry melee. The battle was a decisive Florentine victory with about 8000 dead, wounded and captured on Sienese side (the French troops fought until the end) and only 200 dead on Florentine side. With their army defeated, Sienna finally surrendered on April 17, 1555 and was incorporated into the Duchy of Florence. To celebrate his major victory, duke Cosimo had Vasari paint several fresco's in the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence. Vasari changed the main hall of the town hall, the Salone dei Cinquecento ('the hall of the 500') which previously had fresco's made by Leonardo da Vinci (the battle of Anghiari) and Michelangelo (the battle of Cascina). The fresco's of Michelangelo and Leonardo were made with new methodes which caused both fresco's to be severly damaged quickly after completion. Vasari enlarged the hall (there is a discussion what he did with the fresco of Leonardo) and created 39 fresco's of various Florentine military victories. This fresco of the battle of Marciano was made popular for its key role in Dan Brown’s book Inferno. The text "Cerca Trova" ("Seek and You Shall Find") is on the green flag in the center of the battle. Although Dan Brown gives a different explanation, in reality the text was added as a request of duke Cosimo. The green flags belong to Siena which had various verses from Dante embroidered on it, including "He goes in search of freedom, which is so dear, As he who gives his life for it would know" (in other words, Sienese troops were fighting for their freedom). The text "seek and you will find" is a sarcastic version of the Sienese flag. Fresco from 1570-1571.

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