Later I would learn that Uccello painted the Battle of San Romano with tempera on wood panel in 1435, a scene recounting the victory of the Florentines over the Sienese.
But walking through the Louvre that day I didn’t know any of that. Frankly, the painting’s spirited clash of metal, charging horses, flapping banners appealed little to my pastoral, peace-loving sensibilities. But it was that boy sitting there….
If it hadn’t been for that cross-legged boy sitting on the floor of the gallery, a few feet from this masterpiece that purportedly once hung in Napoleon’s bathroom, I likely wouldn’t have given the work more than a passing glance.
But when I realized what this child attempted in the circling of tourists and foreign languages and the clicking of shutters, I lingered long, intrigued.
What I witnessed brushed me, dyed me, soaked into the fabric of me.
Actually, the young boy didn’t gaze on Uccello’s painting either. I never saw him look directly at it. Instead, this boy of perhaps ten turned slightly to peer at the canvas beside him. An artist had propped up an easel in front of Uccello’s Battle of San Romano, carefully dipped her brush into the palette atop a stool, and painstakingly copied every stroke of Uccello’s unto her canvas.
And this boy copied every stroke of hers.
Perhaps it was that Uccello’s work overwhelmed the budding artist in terms of sheer size, overall complexity or looming magnificence.
Or maybe because he simply could see this living artist, this intentional, considered painter right here before him, that he decidedly imitated her every gesture.
In a way, she incarnated Uccello.
She highlighted the sheen of a mane just like Uccello’s and the boy, simple ballpoint pen in hand, slowly sketched the arch of a mount just like that. She daubed at her recreation of Uccello’s shadow falling across armor. The boy too let his pen carefully shade.
She painted Uccello. He painted her.
The child copied the copyist.
The gallery surged with another drove of sight-seers murmuring over the masters, but it’s the unsophisticated drawing of a child imitating an imitator that captivated me. That scene of one disciple following another disciple following the Master is the one imprinted on my memories of the world’s most renowned museum.
For wasn’t it a kind of incarnating of the essence of the art of parenting? More: of spiritual formation? Ultimately: of Christ-likeness.
God first stretched flesh over Himself in the person of Christ and came among us to show us how to make the God-life come to life. He brought the God canvas close so we might see it, live and in color, that we too might imitate. And now His Spirit perpetually stretches skin over Christ-in-us to show our children, the world at large, how to animate the canvas of a soul with the same God-life. We, who imitate Him, bring our God-canvas close, so others too might imitate.
That life-relay in the Louvre re-enacted Paul’s exhortation to children in the faith, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Our children imitate those they spend time with, are attached to, be it peers, parents, teachers, coaches, faith communities. Jesus concurs, “It is enough for the student to be like his teacher…” (Matthew 10:25).
I wonder what my children are copying from the life modeled in the daily gallery of my heart, this home?
I may well forget that Uccello used wooden models of the rearing steeds in the Battle of San Romano, or applied silver leaf so that the metal studs gleamed, luster long now worn off. But for these children circling through my day, watching what I paint on the canvas of these hours, I do well not to forget:
Draw God. Incarnate Jesus. Imitate His Spirit.
They’re copying our life-canvas.
Photos: watching the imitator be imitated at the Louvre
©2008, Ann Voskamp