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Bernhard Berenson

It would be difficult to find more effective illustration of all that has just been said about movement than one or two of Pollaiuolo’s own works, which, in contrast to most of his achievements, where little more than effort and research are visible, are really masterpieces of life-communicating art. Let us look first at his engraving known as the “Battle of the Nudes.” What is it that makes us return to this sheet with ever renewed, ever increased pleasure? Surely it is not the hideous faces of most of the figures and their scarcely less hideous bodies.

Before approaching the one man of genius left in Florence after Botticelli and Leonardo, before speaking of Michelangelo, the man in whom all that was most peculiar and much that was greatest in the striving of Florentine art found its fulfilment, let us turn for a moment to a few painters who, just because they were men of manifold talent, might elsewhere almost have become masters.

About 1494-1557. Pupil of Perugino and Franciabigio; influenced by Andrea del Sarto and Michelangelo.

1466-1524 (?). Pupil of Botticelli and Filippino Lippi; influenced by Ghirlandajo and Perugino.

1401-1428. Pupil of Masolino; influenced by Brunellesco and Donatello.

Giotto born again, starting where death had cut short his advance, instantly making his own all that had been gained during his absence, and profiting by the new conditions, the new demands—imagine such an avatar, and you will understand Masaccio.

Giotto we know already, but what were the new conditions, the new demands? The mediæval skies had been torn asunder and a new heaven and a new earth had appeared, which the abler spirits were already inhabiting and enjoying. Here new interests and new values prevailed.

1441 or 2-1493. Pupil of Fra Filippo; influenced slightly by Castagno’s works; imitated most of his Florentine contemporaries, especially Botticelli, Ghirlandajo, and Amico di Sandro.

Let us look now at an even greater triumph of movement than the Nudes, Pollaiuolo’s “Hercules Strangling Antæus.” As you realise the suction of Hercules’ grip on the earth, the swelling of his calves with the pressure that falls on them, the violent throwing back of his chest, the stifling force of his embrace; as you realise the supreme effort of Antæus, with one hand crushing down upon the head and the other tearing at the arm of Hercules, you feel as if a fountain of energy had sprung up under your feet and were playing through your veins.

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