This fifteenth-century engraving of ten naked men fighting is one of the largest and most influential prints made in the Renaissance. A variety of weapons are depicted: bows and arrows, swords, daggers, axes and a heavy chain. Two shields, one face up, one face down, are lying on the ground. The subject of this print is an enigma. What historical period is being depicted, who are these men, why are they fighting, and why are they nude?
Pollaiuolo’s ‘Battle of Ten Nudes’: Spreading the Renaissance in Europe
Antonio Pollaiuolo, Battle of Ten Nudes or (Battle of Nude Men) – Smarthistory
The Battle of the Nudes or Battle of the Naked Men ,  probably dating from —, is an engraving by the Florentine goldsmith and sculptor Antonio del Pollaiuolo which is one of the most significant old master prints of the Italian Renaissance. The engraving is large at All the figures are posed in different strained and athletic positions, and the print is advanced for the period in this respect. The style is classicizing, although they grimace fiercely, and their musculature is strongly emphasized. The two figures nearest the front of the picture space are in essentially the same pose, seen from in front and behind, and one purpose of the print may have been to give artists poses to copy. An effective and largely original return-stroke engraving technique was employed to model the bodies, with delicate and subtle effect. Vasari , who praises the engraving highly, says that Pollaiuolo made other prints, but none have survived.
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Born in Florence about , he received his initial training as a goldsmith; according to tradition, he worked as an assistant to Lorenzo Ghiberti on the "Gates of Paradise" for the Baptistery in Florence. A famous print in its day, it generated replicas in various media and inspired numerous partial copies. It was so admired during the Renaissance that it was mentioned by Giorgio Vasari in his "Lives of the Artists," first published in - one of the few prints to be thus recognized. With his knowledge of goldsmithing, Pollaiuolo possessed the skills that allowed him to engrave on copper. His experience as a painter and a draftsman enabled him to design this complex, multi-figured composition.
One of the earliest and most influential Italian engravings, this print is an anomaly in many respects. The Museum's impression, like others, shows the wear that resulted from handling and examination. The subject of the print has never been completely explained. Some people have argued that the print was meant to illustrate a mythological episode, while others have viewed it as a pattern piece, intended to demonstrate a range of poses and viewpoints for the benefit of other artists. Another interpretation suggests that the ten nude figures locked in combat may be gladiators fighting in funeral games, and the print itself may have commemorated the death of a prominent Florentine.