THE ENCOUNTER OF LEO AND ATTILA (Paper presented in Athens in 1989) "Some might regard this as a historic meeting

. But what is history? Errors scrawled on sheepskins. Fallible minds pretending to know the past. There are no historians here. I shall not write about this meeting. Not, I think, will you. We are free from history. And yet we are history. Is my Latin too rapid for you? Good, I see it is not. I was asked to come and see you."1 (Words of Pope Leo to Attila during their meeting on the banks of the river Mincio) This paper does not deal with the subject you expect, namely with Attila, the Scourge of God, the king of the Huns, who terrorized the Roman Empire for more than 20 years. Thus the title of this paper: 'representations of Attila the Hun in Renaissance Rome' is not entirely correct. It should have been 'Representations of the meeting of Attila the Hun and Pope Leo I the Great in Renaissance and Baroque Vatican' I shall try to explain that the representations of this encounter are an answer to, or a reflection of the political situation of that time. You may say that these images have an ideological content. In short this paper does not deal with the use (or abuse, if you like) of history in modern times. Most people know Attila as the Scourge of God. He was the king of the Huns, nomads who came from the East. The ferocity of the Huns in general and that of Attila especially is a common place in the literature since the Middle Ages. One has compared and still compares the Germans with the Huns. Such a comparison was made by The Times magazine on the occasion of the reunion of the two Germanies. Another example is that in an editorial of the Greek rightwing newspaper Estia 'the withdrawal' was requested 'from the martyred island of Cyprus which is suffering under the ruthless boot of the Turkish Attila.' The reason why Attila and the Huns have this reputation is not the subject of this lecture, but I must say that every more or less important opponent of the Roman Empire or of the Christian Church has acquired this epithet. For instance the Saracens dared to conquer the Holy Land and invaded Spain. Europe sent “its bravest sons” to reconquer that region. In the western literary sources the Saracens are depicted as ferocious, cruel,... This picture of the Arabic speaking people has survived until now. The crusaders on the other hand were brave, fair, ... men. In Arabic literature you find the opposite picture. I think Attila was no more ferocious than his opponents, than Aetius, the general of the West Roman emperor. Besides, to understand Attila you have to place him in the political situation of his period and in the social context of his tribe. Attila and his Huns become important for the West Roman empire, when he invaded in 451 Gaul and he was 'defeated' in the battle at the Catalaunian Plains. In fact, it was no defeat -the struggle was stopped because it became too dark-, but he retreated after an indecisive battle. However, the Huns have influenced the history of the West Roman empire much earlier than this. Until 439 they enabled Aetius and the Gallo-Roman landlords to maintain themselves 1 A. Burgess, Hun, in The Devil's Mode, New York-Singapore, 1989, p. 255.

or revalues the importance of the political and the military action of the East Roman emperor Marcianos and his general Aetios. but doubts about the impact on Attila are justified. He captured Aquileia. Although it is not clear why the pope should have been sent. During the siege of Toulouse. He wrote a universal history ending in the year 455. there are other examples of clerical embassies. He died one year later. On this occassion there was the notorious meeting of Attila and Leo I the Great on the banks of the river Mincio. Vicenza. relying on the help of God. is very important for the picture it gives of Attila in Italy. you can't doubt the historicity of the embassy of pope Leo I. on his wedding night. Still others account for Attila's conduct by the threat of famine and plague. . when the whole delegation had been received with fitting honours. Attila the King. and withdrew beyond the Danube after promising peace. the pope is accompanied by a man. who threatened Attila with a sword and who scared him. In this manuscript. a manuscript written between 1027 and 1050. I think that the version of this encounter by Cassiodorus is more reliable. or gives a psychological explanation for the behaviour of Attila (as superstition). slaves and brigands. The role of the pope was limited when he concluded peace as a representative of the emperor in the name of the emperor. Mediolanum (Milan) and many other cities. Moreover Attila is often represented as an opponent of the Roman Emperor and not as one of the Church. In my view. which. The Chronicon Novalicense. the Scourge of God. His account of the embassy is very brief. Attila concluded peace with this embassy and he withdrew his troops north of the Alps. and.'2 In the Historiae romanae. rejoiced so much in the presence of our most exalted Pope that he both gave instructions to abstain from war. gangs composed of peasants. The only testimony written by a contemporary historian is that of Prosper Tironis.with success against other 'barbaric' tribes and bagaudae. a history written by Paulus Diaconus in the eighth century. He hesitated however to cross the Apennines and to plunder Rome. (453) The unexpected withdrawal of Attila gave and still gives cause for speculation. 2 I thank Geoffrey Tanner for the translation. In 452 he invaded Italy. either increases or reduces the importance of the papal intervention. according the school of thought or ideology of the researchers. in 439 the Goths sent certain bishops as ambassadors to the leader of the enemies to beg for terms. Attila is nicknamed for the first time `Flagellum Dei'. Patavium (Padua). undertook this business. the capital of the Goths. a christian historian who lived in the fifth century AD. He said 'our most blessed Pope Leo.

Behind him a soldier is holding a waving banner. dated in the second half of the thirteenth century. He is leaning back as if he is going to fall of his horse. the Stanza d'Eliodoro (1512-1514). which identifies him as the most important man of the group. is depicted. In the middle of it a bearded man. The keys hint at the identity of this saint. . The fresco which concerns our study. the other the white horse. On the left there is a much larger group in action. depicts two people in front of a tent. according to St. He is wearing a cloak and a tiara. All soldiers wear scale-armours. is the 'Repulsion of Atttila from the Walls by Leo the Great' (fig. riding on a black horse. 1). This identifies him immediately as the pope. a bee-hive shaped head-covering with 3 crowns.Only from the fourteenth and fifteenth century onwards the representation of Attila as an enemy of Christianity becomes very popular and wide spread in Italy.you can see two floating figures. He is holding his right hand up. Since the fifth century St Peter is represented frequently with keys which. It is the first representation of the encounter of Leo and Attila. Next to him -extreme right. Both are bearded and the nimbus around their head identifies them as saints. and signalling for the army to advance. who are identified as cardinals by their clothing. In the center of this group there is a man riding on a white horse -the only white in the whole painting. He is wearing a crown. He is holding his arms behind him. He is looking at the two floating men right above. six horsemen and two people on foot are depicted. Behind him there are 3 horsemen. Above his scale-armour he has a cloak.Mathew. The presiding theme of the whole cycle of fresco's in this room is the divine intervention in defence of the integrity of and the spiritual and temporal patrimony of the Church. He is also used as a kind of contrast and as excuse to idiolize certain aristocratic families. On the right. On the two smaller walls he painted 'the angel delivering St Peter from prison' and the 'Miracle of Bolsena'. A miniature in the Saechschen Weltchronik. of whom the nearest is holding a cross.there are two men. It is possible to distinguish three different groups of people. On the right -above the pope. On one of the two main walls he painted the 'expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple' and on the other 'the repulsion of Attila from the Walls by Leo the Great'. They form a closed group. Raphael also painted helmets with unplumed crests and circular trumpets. The person to the extreme right is holding in his right hand a sword and in his left two keys. The first representation of the encounter of pope Leo I and Attila in the Vatican is a fresco painted by Raphael in one of the private rooms of pope Julius II. One of the latter is holding a horse without horseman.

The Galleria delle carte geografiche is named after the 40 topographical maps of the Popal States which are represented on the walls of the gallery. the patron-saints of Rome. In the figure of Leo the Great we have a portrait of Leo X. is a call to all christian kings to settle their mutual feuds and to fight togehter. riding on a white horse. . we see Julius II as Leo the Great. They were painted between 1580 and 1583. The presence of St Peter and St Paul. This is indicated by his beard. He is holding his hand forward in order to stop the opposing group. In this poem he honoured Leo X for chasing the French out of Italy by describing the meeting of Leo and Attila. they converted Rome together. The representation of St Peter and St Paul together. symbol of the unity of the Church. This is no ordinary representation of the meeting of Leo and Attila.. His retinue is calm. but he is pointing with his forefinger of his left hand to the left. According to the literary tradition. an obelisk and an aquaduct. before the freso was finished. Raphael. the poet Gyraldi published his Hymnus ad divum Leonem Pont. is pope Leo. At approximately the same date as the fresco. According to tradition. The man with the tiara. however. As in the poem. the aim of this fresco is to idolize pope Leo X. silent and exudes self-confidence. kept in Oxford. Probably the fresco deals with the same subject as the poem.Jesus has given him. moved the meeting from there to the walls of Rome. but he died in February 1513. Attila. This scene is identified as the encounter of pope Leo I the Great and Attila. painted on the ceiling. the encounter was on the banks of the river Mincio. According to the literary tradition the other must be St Paul. in length. Besides an enormous variety of historical tableaux. which is somewhat longer and wilder than those of the others. The figure next to him has also a sword in his right hand. According to an ancient tradition. In the background you can distinguish the Colosseum. authority and belief in God. In a preliminary drawing. full of contradictions (the men are marching in different directions) and in action. The gallery is on the second floor of the western part of the Vatican and it is 120 m. at the instruction of pope Gregorius XIII. His men are nervous. One of the saints in the sky is already identified as St Peter by his keys. there are landscapes and arabesques. This event is represented by this fresco. These maps are very important as a testimony of the knowledge of geography and cartography during the sixteenth century. but they are also the keys of the city-gates of Rome. is another indication that this encounter took place nearby Rome. confused. Max. is depicted on the same level as Leo. This is indicated by the fact that Julius II is represented in the Oxforddrawing and Leo X on the fresco. Also one of the cardinals has the features of Leo X. Attila decided to withdraw his troops after St Peter and St Paul appeared unto him and threatened him with death if he should not listen to the pope and he should sack Rome. The keys of St Peter are not only a symbol of his power in heaven. riding on a black horse.

Two figures high in the sky form the third group. It is possible to identify this man as pope Leo I the Great. The pictures represent various events in the history of the Church and scenes from the lives of the saints. but difficulties arose.The historical scenes. It was under Paul V that the relicts of Leo I had been placed. The site was also unsuitable for such a subject (it was too small). under the altar of the Blessed Virgin of the Column.FVRENTEM. In comparison with the landscape the figures are small.MAX. Attila is represented in the middle of the group. The number of spears support this impression. In the background a bridge over a river is depicted.ATTILA. 3). Attila holds his left hand up in greeting and his right hand is bent. has a cloak and apart of a loincloth he is naked. The third representation of the encounter of Leo I the Great and Attila is a relief for the altar of pope Leo the Great in St Peter's (fig. The main problems which confronted the painter. the event plays a secondary role. On the same level as Attila there is someone riding on a white horse. The painter made no effort to depict the Huns as recognizable 'barbarians'. One of the selected scenes is the encounter of pope Leo I the Great with Attila. the landscape has a more prominent place than in the fresco of Raphael. On your right there is large group of horsemen. After the decision in 1626 to close the door leading to the church of St Martha. They are both looking at Attila. a new altar was constructed at the left of the western end of the basilica (it will be remembered that St Peter's has the high altar at the West).PONT. the gate. painted on the ceiling are based on the maps on the walls. The city-walls. He is bearded. To be perfectly clear there is an inscription mentioning S. are the following: inevitably comparisons would be made between this painting and that of Raphael in the nearby Vatican Stanze. 2). In this painting. But nothing came of this project either. On the left a group of 8 horsemen is depicted. It was intended to commission a painting of the 'Encounter of Leo and Attila' from Guido Reni. In the former. You can distinguish 3 groups. A man on foot is leading his horse by the reins. This painting does not possess the same artistic qualities as the freso of Raphael.LEO. He is riding on a white horse. III and IV. I think that this painting is only ornamental. the towers and other fortifications are clearly visible. You can distinguish separate buildings far away. The . and the Congregation of the Works turned instead to someone else. together with those of II. He is wearing a tiara with 3 crowns. It is clear that this painting has different aim from the fresco of Raphael. He is identifiable by the crown. Both are wearing the same cloths and both are holding a sword in the right hand. a garment and a cloak.REPRIMIT (fig.

It may be that white marble suffers less from the darkness of the site than a painting would. the architect and engineer under whose auspices the sculptor had arrived at the court of Mantua. modified on the instructions of his ecclesiastical advisors. This small town is not far from Mantua and the likelihood that Algardi would have known it. The relief is divided into three parts. the other points to the Cross. On the left is another group. He proposed that the encounter should take place on foot. Such care for the minutiae of icongraphic accuracy had not troubled his predecessors. since. The second crown was added by pope Bonefacius VIII in the 13th century. Its size was perhaps the least daunting aspect of Algardi's task. His youth stands in contrast with the dignified old age of the man behind him. In the foreground there is a young man in kneeling position.His right leg is put forward. A cloak is tied over his shoulder which is secured with a brooch. Therefore it had been decided in 1646. where the historic encounter took place. That it was Algardi's idea is evident in that his preliminary model does not include Leo's horse.light was unfavourable. whereby the soldiers behind . This bearded man is wearing a long garment and only one crown on his tiara. One of St Leo's hands is thrust out to halt the invaders. but also. He is recognizable by his crown. is increased by the fact that the church had been built by Gabriele Bertazzoli. Algardi has played down the unambiguous indications of recession into depth. to commission a marble relief from Alessandro Algardi. under Innocentius X. although both Leo and Attila are standing.is that it is the first time that a carved altar was commissioned for such a prominent location and its size was also extraordinary. the one given by emperor Constantine to pope Sylvester. So revolutionary was this proposal that a special committee was deputed to decide 'whether in this ''history'' the Blessed Pope should be placed on horseback or on foot'. from which we must assume that the Pope has just dismounted. The answer would seem to have been a qualified approval for Algardi's initiative. composed of many people. In the representation of Attila's followers. at the extreme right the head of a more docile horse. Attila is depicted in the foreground. One of them is a painting by Franscesco Borgani (1614) above the high altar of the parish church of Governelo. the sculptor must have been instructed to introduce not only the head of Attila's horse behind the Hun. To overcome the problem of the size Algardi proposed a change in the iconography. Perhaps one member of the sub-committee pointed out to him that at this early date the pope had only one crown. which would probably have been known to Algardi. The importance of this relief -apart from its artistic aspect. as if he were running straight out of the relief. Finally the paintings could not withstand the condensation and the humidity. He is holding his hand right up and he is looking up in the direction of the saints. On the right a group of five people is depicted. The other image is an engraving illustrating Giulio Strozzi's poem 'La Venetia edificata'. The formula of the meeting of Leo and Attila on foot is found in two other and older representations of the subject. He used an illusionistic device. published in 1624.

The confusion of Attila's army. was the first to use the type with a flowing beard. A dragon in horizontal form is an ensign found on classical monuments. contrasts with the quiet stability of the saint and the calm of the priests behind him. St Paul is pointing with his left hand to the route by which the Huns must retreat and St Peter to his successor and earthly representative. yet we tend involuntarily to interpret them as if we were looking at them from a raised viewpoint.illustrates vividly the conflict between them and the forces they represent. but Algardi has made no effort to depict the Huns as recognizable barbarians. and to see them as further back than they really are. The gap in the center of the composition -emphasized (not weakened) by the bridge created by the Hun's armour-bearing page and the arm of the officer behind.Attila. In this image the principal figures stand out clearly and unmistakably. In 1645 Spain and its allies was fighting against the Turks for the hegemony over the Mediterranean Sea. now mounted on horses. The putti. At that time . Pietro da Cortona. Raphael introduced a soldier covered in scale-armour. a painter. namely the Pope. There is in fact no tradition for the representation of Huns. helmets with unplumed crests and. well known to Algardi from the collection of cardinal Ludovisi. The head of the train-bearer is based on the antique statue of the 'Gaul Killing his Wife'. The cloak of St Paul is blowing forward. and uncertain of its direction. Since 1645 Cromwell was engaged in prosecuting the Catholics in England. creates the impression of a vast horde. Nature is represented by one tree behind pope Leo and his companions. his hair parted in the middle and growing almost horizontally in wavy curls. though later adopted by the Roman conquerors. as yet unaware of their leader's historic decision. the little fat monsters. and the miraculous victory of the Christian Church over the invading infidel. The differences in the leaves on the tree were no doubt introduced to mask the line between 2 of the 5 blocks of marble. a dragon standards. You have to look at this relief in the light of the political situation of that time. the Hun and the 2 Apostles. who was his patron in Rome. had originally been used by the Parthians. Dacians and other Nothern peoples. This standard. Algardi introduced some archaeological details. are raised above him. St Peter is now almost horizontal and St Paul swoops down on the invaders. This. His reliefs depict the salvation of Rome through the action of St Leo the Great. Yet in St Paul we find Algardi turning to Pietro da Cortona. together with the general confusion. The plants at the bottom have been added to hide the transition between the ground of the stage and the backplane. are pushing the clouds back to reveal the vision of St Peter and St Paul. halted. and the number of spears and ensigns. such as the circular trumpets. Above them are the two Apostles. but the other ensigns look entirely Roman. Both have a sword in their right hand. But Algardi was not seriously concerned with archaeology.

but it does exist. The connection is not as obvious as in the fresco of Raphael. .there were problems between the pope and France.

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