Celebrated in his lifetime as a painter of perspective and of animals and landscape, Uccello was a versatile artist who worked at times on mosaic and stained glass design. This painting is a late work, probably of c.1470. It is a highly original painting, both as a nocturnal landscape and as a brilliantly structured composition. Uccello mapped out a grid on the panel's surface as a guide for his design, fixing a central vanishing point. The devices of the huntsmen's spears, the cut branches and logs and the area of water denote this coherent space, inhabited by the receding forms of men and animals. Uccello's approach is also highly decorative, with bright, clear colours set off against a dark background: the foliage of the trees was once picked out with gold, accentuating the precious, mosaic-like effect. Hunting was an aristocratic pastime with its own rituals (and the crescent moon, symbol of Diana, the chaste goddess of the hunt, appears in the horses' trappings) and the idea here of a hunt by night is playful or symbolic rather than realistic. The panel painted for a luxurious domestic setting, perhaps in Urbino or in Florence.
tempera and oil, with traces of gold, on panel
image © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford