Fight of Ten Naked Youths, 1470 - 1475


Between 1470 and 1480, Antonio Pollaiuolo created the famous copper engraving, Fight Of Ten Naked Youths. It is the largest engraving of his time, and it is the first one in Italy created by a well-known artist.

It has been called the most influential engraving ever published - since it was distributed even in northern Europe. Several copies of the whole composition remain as well as of diverse groups of figures. The subject - the fight of ten youths - was unusual. For one thing, the nakedness of the men is curious, because until then, the display of nudity was part of a scenic context and justified by means of the subject while here, it serves no purpose except possibly the glorification of the human body as it was known in the classic art.

Antonio Pollaiuolo had studied the anatomy of the human body as thoroughly as no other artist of his period. He dissected bodies, and he worked also with living models. His interest in the human body and anatomic changes is also the main subject of this engraving. It was suggested that this work was meant to be a pattern created for his assistants and students and other colleagues who would have been able to draw upon the variety of forms and copy groups of figures. Such pattern sheets and books had been commonly in use since antiquity, serving as a collection of motives for figures, clothings, body fomrs and compositions.

Still, the chain which the two warriors are holding is unexplained. It was suggested that this fight for the chain was the reason for the battle, and several historical battles were implied to be the subject of the engraving. However, the two warriors are holding the chain much too loose, so it could not really be the subject of the fight. And since the location and the characters of the fighting young men cannot be ascertained, it is unlikely to be the presentation of any historical event.

One of the latest interpretations made is that the chain symbolizes the soul imprisoned in the body which can only find its freedom through death of man. The old subject of the dualism of body and soul was not unknown during the time of the renaissance. It was especially popular with the neoplatonic philosophers who were trying to unify the philosophy of Platon with the ideals of christianity. Viewed like this, the tendrils of wine and the corn in the background could be an allusion to the Eucharist, hinting towards to the salvation of man through death.

Antonio did not necessarily intend to transform a certain philosophical text into this scenery, since these ideas were part of a general text commonly spread in all artistic expression of his time.