Paolo Uccello – The Rout Of San Roman

To the decorative charm of medieval tapestry, this picture adds the depth and solidity of early Renaissance painting. Though this touch of realism strengthens the total form, the picture’s distinctive appeal is still decorative, through its brilliant design of contrasting themes in line, light and color. In line, the themes are long straight lances, round oranges and harness-plates, and the wavy curves of prancing horses. All these shapes are echoed with variation in the long lines of the hills and pennants, and in the shorter ones of the men in armor. Following the traditions of heraldic design, there are constant sudden contrasts between various distinct shades, with no soft melting transitions; also between the sheen of metals and the tints of other substances, and between plain and richly brocaded textures. The color is laid on in broad, superficial, contrasting areas, some dull and neutral, to bring out such accented spots as the leader’s gorgeous head-dress. Among details worth noticing are the exquisitely chiselled, cameo-like profile of the boy behind the leader; the block-like, sculptural carving of the horses, and the obvious but not quite successful attempt at realistic perspective in the fallen soldiers and broken lances. The picture’s expressive value is its stirring air of knightly panoply. But its effort to portray the clash of arms is weakened by the stiffness of the gestures. Bodily movement is not well represented, but there is a more abstract, decorative sort of movement, lively and crackling, in the interplay of themes in the design.