On many occasions, works of art are studied as isolated objects of history, omitting the social, cultural or political context that surrounds them, in this way we viewers only manage to obtain a partial idea of it that we do not allows capturing the global essence of the piece. In this way and without taking into account the historical context of the moment, it does not seem reasonable that in the well-known basilica of Santa María de las Flores in Florence we find a large fresco that represents a mercenary and to make matters worse of English origin.
The funerary monument or equestrian monument of Sir John Hawkwood painted by Paolo Ucello was commissioned in the first half of the fifteenth century, around the year 1436. The work was to commemorate the war exploits of the English knight for whom Florence felt a deep respect despite having fought for the English in the Hundred Years' War. Hawkwood was nothing but a soldier of fortune, that is, a mercenary whose services could be contracted for a high price. In the historical situation of the moment, Italy was a group of city states in which the struggles for power were continuous, so the idea of hiring mercenaries to the highest bidder was not strange. In this way the soldier fought the Battle of Cascina for Florence proclaiming himself a war hero and an example of a great military dignitary.
Paolo Ucello(1397 – 1475) is a painter who even today presents many unknowns for the great researchers of art. Painter and mathematician in equal parts, his paintings demonstrate a profound knowledge of the laws of perspective that at that time represented a great advance for painting. The artist represented the soldier as if it were a classic military figure, the influence of other equestrian works such as Marco Antonio on horseback seems undeniable, but even more undeniable is the influence that Masacciohad for the artist. As the first did in his Trinidad, Ucello places the equestrian sculpture on a pedestal in which he has taken into account the point of view of the viewer who had to look up to see the fresco while using the frontal perspective to represent both the horse as the rider.
The entire fresco is painted in shades of green as if it were a sculptural piece of metal battered by the passage of time. Perhaps it was that excessive greenish hue that did not quite convince the leaders of the basilica who forced Ucello to retouch the piece and apparently to lower the tones.
In 1524 Paolo Ucello's fresco was retouched by the painter Lorenzo di Credi who added a rectangular border framing the piece and decorated with grotesques according to the taste of the time.