The battle of Anghiari
Clément Janequin – La Guerre (1528)
Leonardo’s projected mural of the Battle of Anghiari, fought in 1440 against the Milanese, was one a series of magnificent components planned for the Council Hall of the Florentine Republic, together with Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina. He recorded that in 1505, when he was actually painting on the wall (in an experimental oil technique), a violent storm damaged his full-scale drawing (the cartoon). The section of the huge mural he was painting depicted the central knot of screaming warriors and savage horses locked in frantic combat. It was left unfinished when the powerful French insisted that they needed his services in Milan. The image shown here is Rubens’ copy of Leonardo’s lost work, drawn over a 16th century copy.
A series of extraordinarily impulsive drawings, scribbled with bellicose energy, and passionate studies for the heads of shouting warriors, show the creative fury with which Leonardo approached his task. A copy once owned by the Doria family effectively records what was left of the unfinished painting.
Leonardo’s own account of ‘How to paint a battle’ gives a sense of the cinematographic visual effects he envisaged. A few excerpts will convey the dramatic intensity.
‘All around in the semi-liquid earth show the imprints of men and horses who have trampled all over it. Show a horse dragging along its dead master, leaving behind it the tracks where the corpse has been hauled through the dust and blood…’
‘Make the conquered and beaten pale, with their brows knit high and let the skin above be heavily furrowed with pain. Let the sides of the nose be wrinkled in an arch starting at the nostrils and finishing where the eyes begin. [Show] the flared nostrils which cause these crease lines, and the lips arched to reveal the upper teeth and the teeth parted, as if to wail in lamentation…’
‘Let the air be full of arrows of every kind, some shooting upwards, others falling, others flying straight…’
We may doubt whether even Leonardo’s pictorial skills could have realised all the visual effects and physical dynamism. As in a modern film, music seems to be needed.
By 1515 Leonardo was living near the chateau of Amboise, under the patronage of the French king, François I. The French were victors in a famous battle that year against Leonardo’s former employers in Milan and their Swiss occupiers which seems to have been commemorated in 1528 in a famously descriptive piece by the Poitiers-based priest, Clément Janequin, complete with written out vocal sound effects of cannons, whizzing arrows, gunshot and the screams of the fleeing Swiss (‘toute verlore, bigot’ – all is lost, by God). Janequin’s chanson was much copied in years to come and it’s a virtuosic sing - if light-hearted. Written for the pleasure of those singing it and including a (hidden) obscene pun the whole effect is not a little Python/HolyGrail-esque, but in its outlandishness and span provides something of a soundtrack to Leonardo’s lost Battle. (If you don't enjoy the added effects, the album also includes a voices-only version).
TEXT / TRANSLATION
Écoutez tous gentils gallois
la victoire du noble roi François.
Et orrez si bien écoutez,
Des coups rués de tous côtés.
Phifres soufflez, frappez tambours,
tournez, virez, faites vos tours,
soufflez, jouez, frappez tambours,
soufflez, jouez, frappez toujours.
Aventuriers, bons compagnons,
Ensemble croisez vos bâtons.
Bandez soudain, gentils gascons,
Hacquebutiers, faites vos sons.
Nobles sautez dans vos arçons,
armés, bouclés, frisqués, mignons,
La lance au poing, hardis et prompts,
En joie mis.
La fleur de lys,
Fleur de haut prix
y est en personne.
Le roi François!
Suivez la couronne!
Sonnez trompettes et clarons
Pour réjouir les compaignons!
Boutez selle! Gendarmes à cheval!
Tôt à l'étendard! Avant!
Bruyez bombardes et canons,
Tonnez gros courtaux et faucons
Pour secourir les vaillants compagnons.
Donnez des horions!
Chipe chope, torche, lorgne.
Tue, tue! Serve, serve!
À mort, à mort! Lique, lique.
Courage prenez! Frappez, tuez!
Gentils galants, soyez vaillants!
Frappez dessus! Ruez dessus!
Fers émoulus, chipez dessus!
Ils sont en fuite. Ils montrent les talons!
Ils sont confus, ils sont perdus.
Après suivez! Frappez, ruez. Battez, tuez!
Escampe, tout est ferlore, la tintelore.
Victoire au noble roi François!
Toute verlore, bigott!
Listen, all you good-timers,
to the victory of the noble King Francois.
And you’ll hear, if you listen well,
blows rained down from all sides.
Pipes blow, drums bang,
turn, spin, make your turns,
blow, play, bang drums,
blow, play, bang constantly
Soldiers, good comrades,
cross sticks together.
Assemble quickly, noble Gascons.
Gunners, make your sounds.
Nobles, jump in your saddles,
armed, buckled, ready, good-looking.
lance in fist, brave and swift
brave like lions.
Get in there,
Let everyone get ready,
the fleur de lys,
flower of high worth,
is there in person.
Follow the crown.
Sound trumpets & bugles
to delight our comrades.
Saddle up, cavalry to their horses.
Quickly rally to the standard! Forwards!
Roar, bombards and cannons,
Thunder, great cannons and small cannons,
to help our brave comrades,
France, have courage.
Deal your blows.
Squeeze, catch, wipe out, stare them down.
Kill, put to death,
Courage, take, kill them.
Take courage! Hit, kill.
Noble gentlemen, be brave!
Smash them. Kick them.
Freshly cast blades, stab them.
They're running away. They’re showing their heels.
Take courage, comrades.
They’re confused, lost.
Chase them. Smash, kick, beat, kill.
Escape – all is lost, the noise of battle.
Victory to the noble King Francois!
All is lost, by God.
Clare Wilkinson - mezzo-soprano
Nicholas Mulroy - tenor
Greg Skidmore - bass
Charles Gibbs - bass