Luigi Schiavonetti: The battle of Cascina (1808)

(British Museum, London, UK)

An engraving by the Italian artist Luigi Schiavonetti (1765-1810). This engraving is based upon Michelangelo's cartoon which is now lost. The battle of Cascina (28 July 1364) was a part of the wars between the republic of Florence and the republic of Pisa. In 1364 a large Florentine army was advancing to the town of Cascina but the high temperature made it almost unbearable to march. The army stopped at the Arno river and a large part of the soldiers removed their armor to bathe in the river while  , the commander of the Florentine army, retreated to take some sleep. The Pisan army however was in the vicinity and spies reported the situation to Sir John Hawkwood, the commander of the Pisan army. Realizing that the Florentine army was almost three times larger then his, John Hawkwood decided to ambush the unsuspecting Florentines. Unfortunately the ambush failed as it took much longer for the Pisan army to reach the Florentines. When John Hawkwood finally arrived, the Florentines had prepared an advance guard. The initial Pisan assault failed to rout the Florentines who launched a massive counterattack which overran the Pisan army which lost about 3000 men (killed, wounded and captured). Michelangelo was commissioned in 1504 by Pier Soderini, a Florentine politician, to create a fresco of the battle for the Salone dei Cinquecento in the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence. Although Michelangelo created many studies and even created a full-size cartoon of the intended composition (this engraving is based upon that cartoon), the fresco itself was never completed for unknown reasons. The engraving itself shows the bathing Florentine soldiers. Surprised by news of the approach of the Pisan army on the left, brought by armoured soldiers in upper right, they are hurrying to climb onto the bank and dress for battle. Engraving from 1808.