Book asks who's greater, Michelangelo or Leonardo?

Tue Mar 30, 2010 9:52am EDT
 
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - A new book focuses on a 16th century competition that set out to discover who was the better artist -- Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci, and says the outcome profoundly influenced the Renaissance titans' legacies.

Jonathan Jones, a British art critic who has been a Turner Prize judge, said the contest was familiar to art historians but to his knowledge had not been treated as the subject for a book.

"The Lost Battles: Leonardo, Michelangelo and the Artistic Duel that Defined the Renaissance," published by Simon & Schuster," hits stores on Thursday and describes a dramatic and defining moment in art history.

The decision by Florence officials that Michelangelo was the victor helped launch the younger artist's career and set him on a path to glory with key commissions in Rome.

Leonardo, meanwhile, was sidelined despite having a more established reputation, and ended up in the French court, which would have been looked down upon by Italy's art patrons.

"You are not left in much doubt that it was a competition," Jones said in a telephone interview. "The Florentine Renaissance was obsessed with competition."

And so, at the turn of the 16th century, the Florentine government commissioned the artists to produce rival battle frescos -- Leonardo's "Battle of Anghiari" and Michelangelo's "Battle of Cascina" -- for a hall in the civic palace.

Neither painting was completed and both are lost, although they survive partially through engravings and sketches. But Jones is in little doubt Michelangelo emerged from the contest with his reputation enhanced while Leonardo suffered a setback.   Continued...

 
<p>A boy runs across a giant copy of the Mona Lisa as it is unveiled in Wrexham, north Wales, October 28, 2009. REUTERS/Phil Noble</p>