Let’s look at two works by Pollaiuolo, works which Berenson calls “masterpieces of life-communicating art.” The engraving above is Pollaiuolo’s Battle of the Nudes. “The pleasure we take in these savagely battling forms,” writes Berenson, “arises from their power to directly communicate life, to immensely heighten our sense of vitality. Look at the combatant prostrate on the ground and his assailant bending over, each intent on stabbing the other. See how the prostrate man plants his foot on the thigh of his enemy, and note the tremendous energy he exerts to keep off the foe, who, turning as upon a pivot, with his grip on the other’s head, exerts no less force to keep the advantage gained. The significance of all these muscular strains and pressures is so rendered that we cannot help realizing them; we imagine ourselves imitating all the movements, and exerting the force required for them.... While under the spell of this illusion [we] feel as if the elixir of life, not our own sluggish blood, were coursing through our veins.”

Click here to see another work by Pollaiuolo, with commentary by Berenson.