What happens when the two greatest artists of all times meet for a showdown?
That showdown actually took place. The mayor of Florence commissioned the paintings (frescoes) from Michelangelo Buonarroti and Leonardo da Vinci. They were each told to paint a scene from the history of Florence on one of the walls of the Council Room of the Town Hall.
Expectation ran high. Of course neither of the artists allowed anyone to see what he was doing while he worked at home. Of the two, Michelangelo must have been the more worried. Leonardo was a generation older and had established his reputation. Michelangelo grew up hearing about Leonardo’s genius—was he jealous? His biographers speak of his dislike for Leonardo.
Leonardo was also an experienced painter and Michelangelo had painted very little so far. He had never painted in fresco. He was a sculptor.
What happened? Who won?
Officially, neither genius, because Michelangelo never painted his fresco and Leonardo ruined his.
However, copies of Michelangelo’s preparatory drawing (cartoon) and of Leonardo’s fresco have survived and give us a fair idea of what each man would have painted.
Here is Michelangelo’s (after an old copy):
A Wikipedia Commons photo
He chose a scene of a famous battle between the Florentines and the Pisans. The soldiers were bathing in the Arno River when the call to arms was sounded and they had to dress and arm themselves in a hurry.
Leonardo chose a cavalry skirmish from another famous battle. This is a copy by Rubens of a copy:
See this public domain photo enlarged
As you can see, it is impossible to say which was “better”. That always happens when you compare the work of great geniuses, not only in painting.
Read here about the studies the two geniuses made for their frescoes.
And see here two great statues of David, the Bible hero, by Michelangelo and Bernini.