Antonio Pollaiuolo, The Battle of the Nudes, a copperplate engraving


British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

This large engraving of ten fighting men was the most influential print produced in Renaissance Florence. The subject was inspired by Greek and Roman sculpture. Most scholars suggest that these nudes were intended to be models for artists to copy, rather than to be depictions of a literary subject. However, paintings by Pollaiuolo of similar nudes show episodes from the life of Hercules. One ancient myth known to Pollaiuolo's patrons tells of the Greek hero Jason, who sowed a ploughed field with dragon's teeth, from which sprang armed men who promptly slaughtered each other. It is possible that Pollaiuolo's engraving illustrates this story. With The Battle of the Nudes, Pollaiuolo engraved deep outlines round his figures, then scratched fine drypoint lines inside these contours to model the muscles. Only one impression from the plate in that state survives. Another artist then reworked the anatomy with a V-shaped burin, leaving a deeper pattern of zigzag lines that could survive the pressure of printing.

Pollaiuolo (1432-98) was a goldsmith and sculptor, and may have modelled his figures in clay or wax before drawing them. The two central nudes correspond to one single figure, seen from the front and back. This technique, which is characteristic of Pollaiuolo, is evident in The Martyrdom of St Sebastian (National Gallery, London). He signed this print with an impressive Latin inscription in the left background. Pollaiuolo and Mantegna were the first great Italian artists to make engravings, and each must have been aware of the other's work.


  • Title: Antonio Pollaiuolo, The Battle of the Nudes, a copperplate engraving
  • Date Created: 1470/1495
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 416.00mm (trimmed along l and r edges and along bottom); Width: 594.00mm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: engraving
  • Subject: battle
  • Registration number: V,1.33
  • Producer: Print made by Pollaiuolo, Antonio
  • Material: paper
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Previous owner/ex-collection Lloyd, Thomas. Previous owner/ex-collection Sykes, Mark Masterman

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