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Michelangelo Madonna Child

Pitti Tondo
Michelangelo 1503
Bargello, Florence

Michelangelo's Pitti Tondo | John Robinson

Battle of the Battles

To say that there was rivalry between the two artists is to understate the situation and the tension was soon to be raised to boiling point. The City Fathers announced that they had commissioned Leonardo to paint a great battle scene on one of the walls of the hall of the Castle where the Council met. Immediately after the announcement, the Medici family commissioned Michelangelo to paint another battle scene on the wall opposite Leonardo’s painting. The conflict between the artists became known as the Battle of the Battles. Leonardo was furious and sulked, for which I don’t blame him one bit as he was a proven painter, and Michelangelo was then only recognised as a sculptor.

The outcome

One can imagine the tension between the rival artists as it was fuelled by the audience who came to watch them at work. The Battle of the Battles ended in being a fiasco as the King of France ordered Leonardo back to Milan, and Michelangelo was ordered by the Pope to Rome to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.


The Cherub on the headband of the Virgin in the Pitti Tondo symbolises the gift of prophecy; an idea, it has been suggested, that Michelangelo might have borrowed from Donatello’s Madonna on the altar of St Anthony in Padua.

Albrecht Dürer

In 1497 Dürer had carved the woodcut entitled Holy Family with Three Hares, in which Jesus is shown trying to open the Holy Scriptures symbolising the Christian belief that Jesus is the Word. I wonder if Michelangelo had seen a print of this woodcut by the time he carved the Pitti Tondo six years later in 1503 as the Tondo shows Jesus gazing down at an open copy of the Holy Scriptures.

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