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When Michelangelo and Leonardo DaVinci Competed for The Same Job

In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, the Hall of Five Hundred in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy, was adorned with frescoes by Renaissance artists. In 1504, a government employee named Piero Soderini arranged a competition between Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci to complete the fresco. Soderini was an in-law of Piero de’Medici.

The Hall of Five Hundred, or Salone dei Cinquecento, is a grand hall in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy. Originally built in the late 15th century as a meeting place for the city council, the hall was expanded in the early 16th century. It measures 54 meters in length, 23 meters in width, and 18 meters in height, making it one of the largest rooms in Italy.

The hall was used for public functions, diplomatic receptions, and as a place for the Medici family to display their wealth and power. It is an important symbol of the city’s political and cultural history and is open to the public for viewing.

The competitive spirit among Renaissance artists was encouraged by patrons who sponsored them, pushing them to focus on virtuosic techniques and compete for commissions. This led to new approaches and exaggerated techniques such as dramatic scenes, elongated proportions, stylized poses, and lack of clear perspective. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were both called upon to compete for the commission.

The subject of the fresco was to be the Battle of Anghiari, a historic battle between Florence and Milan.

Michelangelo versus Leonardo da Vinci

Here are the sketches both submitted to win the job:

Copy after lost original, Leonardo da Vinci’s Battaglia di Anghiari, by Rubens, originally intended by Leonardo to compete with Michelangelo’s entry for the same commission

Copy after lost original, Michelangelo’s Battaglia di Cascina, by Bastiano da Sangallo, originally intended by Michelangelo to compete with Leonardo’s entry for the same commission

Michelangelo’s ‘Battle of Cascina’ VS. Leonardo’s ‘Battle of Anghiari’

Both artists were given a wall to paint, with Michelangelo painting on the north wall and Leonardo on the south wall. However, both artists encountered difficulties in painting the frescoes.

The challenges encountered while painting the Hall of Five Hundred were primarily caused by technical difficulties associated with working on a large surface and the low quality of the plaster utilized on the walls.

Trouble with the walls and difficulty during the Competition

Michelangelo found that the plaster on the wall was originally created using a blend of lime and brick dust that lacked the strength needed to withstand the weight of the frescoes, leading to cracking and flaking of the paint over time.

Although Da Vinci encountered the same problems, he was experimental in his use of techniques and materials, so he added wax to his pigments. When he painted a wall, it was not drying fast enough, so he tried to speed up the process by using braziers stoked with hot coals. Unfortunately, the heat melted the wax in the fresco, causing the colors to run down the walls and form puddles on the floor.

Michelangelo finally won the competition. 

Perhaps it was considered at the time, that since Michelangelo was younger, and had a crew to help him finish the job, that he should be awarded the commission, while Leonardo was thought of as this ‘crazy old man’ with obsolete ideas. Therefore, Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the walls, but curiously, he left town, and the work unfinished.

Other well renowned artists where hired to finish what Michelangelo had begun. Vasari and Zuccari were eventually hired to complete the decoration of the room, and they painted a series of Mannerist frescoes arranged in chronological order. These frescoes depict historical events and allegorical figures representing virtues, capturing the rich history and culture of Florence. The upper register of the frescoes features scenes from the life of Cosimo I de’ Medici, who commissioned the work.

A legend exists that Giorgio Vasari, wanting to preserve Da Vinci’s work, had a false wall built over the top of The Battle of Anghiari before painting his fresco. Attempts made to find Da Vinci’s original work behind the Vasari fresco have so far been inconclusive.

Why did Michelangelo leave the work unfinished?

While Vasari and Zuccari were eventually hired to complete the decoration of the room, perhaps the reason why Michelangelo moved on was for bigger and better opportunity.  He was offered a very exclusive job in Vatican City, Rome, where he was to work on other projects, including the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

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What was Leonardo up to at the time instead?

Meanwhile, Leonardo da Vinci was primarily active in Milan during the time when the Hall of Five Hundred was painted. While in Milan, he painted several works, including “The Last Supper.”

The competition between Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci for the commission to complete the fresco in the Hall of Five Hundred highlighted the rivalry and competition between the two artists and the importance of patronage in the art world. It also demonstrated the technical challenges of painting on such a large scale and the poor quality of the plaster used on the walls. Despite the difficulties encountered during the process, the Hall of Five Hundred remains an important symbol of Florence’s political and cultural history, and it is open to the public for viewing.

Michelangelo may have won the Hall of Five Hundred, but Leonardo won Venus

NASA has announced the DAVINCI+ mission as part of its Discovery program, which will explore Venus and be the first spacecraft to enter the planet’s atmosphere since 1985. The mission will use a spacecraft and descent probe to map cloud motions, surface composition, and make atmospheric measurements, including samples and images. The data collected will help scientists better understand Venus’s history and possible watery past, as well as connect it to similar planets observed with the James Webb Space Telescope. The DAVINCI+ team involves NASA centers, aerospace partners, and universities, and the launch is planned for 2029 with flybys of Venus in 2030 and probe-based measurements in June 2031.


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