Antonio Pollaiuolo (Italian, Florentine, 1431/321498)
Engraving; 15 1/8 x 23 3/16 in. (38.4 x 58.9 cm)
Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1917 (17.50.99)
This exceptional work, one of the earliest and most influential Italian engravings, is anomalous in many respects. It is the largest engraving of its time, and the only one signed by the Florentine artist Antonio Pollaiuolo (1431/321498). The Museum's impression, like other extant examples, shows the wear that resulted from long handling, examination, and appreciation.
The subject of the work has never been completely explained. Some scholars 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. According to yet another interpretation, 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.
Pollaiuolo's apparent interest is to describe the human body in a state of urgent action, in varied poses, and from many perspectives. The figures' muscles are flexed and exaggerated beyond naturalism but nevertheless demonstrate the artist's keen understanding of anatomy. The careful pairing of fighters in complementary poses injects the violent battle with a dancelike order.