Leonardo da Vinci’s Battle of Anghiari and the Victory Race tradition
From 29th June 1440 until today. The mistery of the painting and the Victory Race tradition.
Notoriety of the Battle of Anghiari is tightly linked to the name of Leonardo da Vinci who was commissioned in May 1503, by the Gonfaloniere of the Florentine Republic Piero Soderini, to represent the battle in the “Salone dei Cinquecento” in Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, while Michelangelo Buonarroti was to represent the Battle of Cascina. Leonardo da Vinci, after a long period of study, in the early months of 1504 started work on a large preparatory cartoon and the following year, started work in Palazzo Vecchio continuing until 1506.
Today we know that Leonardo painted only the central part of the composition — that is the “Fight for the Standard” — with horses and soldiers involved in a furious fight and many artists, such as P. Paul Rubens, have painted copies of this.
The Battle of Anghiari, took place on 29th June 1440, beneath the walls of the town and was the culmination of clash between the Visconti Lords (Milan) and the Florentine Republic. The victory of the Florentine Republic stopped expansion of the Viscontis and that Anghiari had important benefits, among them a ten year exemption from paying the tax of Monte delle Graticole. The Florentines granted that the people of Anghiari could organize, each year on the day dedicated to Saint Peter and Paul, a public fair without paying any taxes or duties and could hold a race on the same day.
The most important of the games in Anghiari (and in Tuscany, except for the race in Siena) has been for centuries the Victory Race, ordered by the Florentine to commemorate the famous battle which took place on June 29th 1440 and started in 1441.
Initially it was a foot race, but from 1484, on orders from Florence, the race was run on horseback. This was to put a stop to problems regarding public order, in fact the foot race had often been interrupted by fighting and crowd disturbance.
The Victory Race was stopped in 1827 , due to a bloody event which took place near the finishing line. The race was important, they ran for the prestige of the town, for a city or a lord who financed the event. Many attempts have been made to re-instate the race and in 2003 the people of Anghiari decided to open the local history and folklore book and today the race is run, on foot, once again (29th June, at sunset), whith runners climbing the hill while wearing the colors of their home town.
The Victory Race today is like the original one: it starts at the chapel, which marks the place of the Battle, and goes up-hill all the way, along Corso Matteotti to Piazza Baldaccio, to announce, every time it is run, the victory of Florence and Tuscany.