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Take One Picture 2021

Paolo Uccello, 'Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino at the Battle of San Romano'

Issued May 2021

17 June – 12 September 2021
Sunley Room
Admission free

This summer, the National Gallery will showcase artworks by primary school children from across the UK in the 26th annual Take One Picture exhibition.

Each year the Gallery invites primary schools nationwide to focus on one of its paintings and respond creatively to its themes and subject matter, historical context, or composition. The programme aims to put art at the centre of children’s learning across the curriculum, inspiring a lifelong connection with artists’ work, museums and galleries. This year the National Gallery has selected The Battle of San Romano (painted probably about 1438–40) by Paolo Uccello as the source of inspiration.

'The Battle of San Romano' is one of three battle scenes by Uccello showing the Florentine army’s victory at San Romano in 1432, an important battle in a war over Florence’s access to the port of Pisa. The others are now in the Louvre, Paris and the Uffizi, Florence. This large and busy painting shows a key moment in the war, with the commander Niccolò da Tolentino leading an attack at the small town of San Romano in Tuscany.

The flowers and oranges show that it took place during high summer. Battles are notoriously hard to depict, and Uccello has shown not the chaotic reality of a bloody conflict but a formal, almost courtly, scene. The Florentine commander, Niccolò da Tolentino, rides a white charger and wears a magnificent red and gold hat. He leads a cavalry charge from the left, while to the right, a knight on a white horse fights off three opponents.

Uccello was intensely interested in linear perspective – using lines to create an impression of three-dimensional space within a painting (at the time a relatively recent discovery at the time) or by experimenting with the laws of perspective to impose order on a chaotic scene. He depicts the broken lances in the foreground with a formal grid-like pattern, and scattered pieces of armour are shown at various angles. The thick hedge and the rising fields behind could be an attempt to show the battle’s location, which was described as taking place in a long hollow, overgrown with vine and brambles. He mixed traditional and new techniques, using real silver and gold leaf for armour and fabrics. The whole impression, with the milling crowds, the clumsy perspective and rather doll-like horses, is almost more like that of a tapestry than a painting.

Ranging from armoured beasts and shining shields to plumed helmets and printed flowers, the exhibition will feature a range of works reflecting the richness of children’s creative responses to Uccello’s painting.

One of the reasons for the choice of painting was the hope that it would inspire children to talk about conflict and resolution, encouraging them to think about valuable life skills including fortitude and resilience in the face of great difficulty. Many of the projects were created during lockdowns in the UK when activities were limited due to Covid-19 restrictions, echoing the battle with a global pandemic. From their artworks it is clear that they were thinking about the things we can fight for, and against, and how we can overcome different challenges. The creative responses show children engaging with enduring concepts from this Renaissance painting through their own contemporary experience, which still resonate deeply today.

Year 3 students at Beavers Community Primary School, London, thought that some of the armour in the painting reminded them of different animals, like woodlice and armadillos. They investigated animals with built-in armour such as scales, shells and spikes, before deciding to create their own. They used medical gloves to make an armature and thought about how we use gloves and masks for our protection during the pandemic. They then built up their beasts and painted them with silver and black paint to resemble armour. ‘It has an exoskeleton and also spikes a bit like a Thorny Devil,’ said a student aged 7. 

Nursery students at Bridgewater Primary School, Northampton, started their project by looking at details from the painting and describing what they saw. The children soon noticed the flowers and oranges in the bushes, leading to conversations about the fruits that they like. They tried tasting different fruits and developed their vocabulary by comparing them. They then picked fresh flowers from around the school and used these to create a collaborative print. I like oranges, but I do like satsumas too,’ said a student aged 3.

Children across year groups at Kingswood Primary School, Gloucestershire, worked together on their project. They were fascinated by the central figure’s hat, asking lots of questions including: ‘What is that crowny thing?’ and ‘Why is one man wearing a hat not a helmet?’ They thought that this hat must be very special. They decided to investigate this further and put notices around the village asking local people to tell them about their special hats. They learned all about hats from different places and periods of history, before designing and making their own. ‘Is the man in the fancy hat a king?’ said a student aged 9. 

Karen Eslea, Head of Learning and National Programmes at the National Gallery, said ‘The children’s wonderful responses show that when art is at the centre of learning it ignites curiosity and inspires children to research, to create and to develop important literacy and life skills. It also encourages them to connect to their communities and to inspire adults to engage with art and with other people.’

'Take One Picture' is generously supported by Columbia Threadneedle Foundation.

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The Sunley Room exhibition programme is supported by the Bernard Sunley Foundation.

Notes to editors

Image: Paolo Uccello, 'Niccolò Mauruzi da Tolentino at the Battle of San Romano', probably about 1438 © The National Gallery, London.

About Take One Picture

Launched in 1995, 'Take One Picture' is the National Gallery’s countrywide scheme for primary schools. Each year the Gallery focuses on one painting from the collection to inspire cross-curricular work in primary classrooms. After a one-day Continuing Professional Development (CPD) course at the Gallery, teachers are given a print of the focus painting, a soundscape and a variety of other resources to support classroom learning. The challenge is then for schools to use the image imaginatively, both as a stimulus for artwork, and to make links across the curriculum.

Each year a selection of work produced by schools based on the painting is shown at the National Gallery and published on the website. In order to be considered for the display, schools submit examples of how a whole class or school has used the picture to inspire projects that are child-led and cross-curricular and through which children have learnt a new process and involved members of the local community.

Further information about the programme, related CPD courses for teachers, and the annual 'Take One Picture' exhibition at the National Gallery can be found at

About Paolo Uccello

Paolo Uccello (about 1397–1475) combined an International Gothic figure style and love of decorative effects with a profound interest in linear perspective, characteristic of the Early Renaissance. Both these features of his art are shown particularly clearly in 'The Battle of San Romano'.

Uccello was trained under the sculptor Ghiberti from about 1407 to 1414 and worked in Venice as a designer of mosaics (1425–30). A pioneer of studies in linear perspective, he executed major fresco commissions utilising the technique to different ends. The equestrian 'Sir John Hawkwood' in Florence Cathedral, (1436), manipulates perspective for the sake of illusionism; 'The Flood' in the cloister of Santa Maria Novella, (1447) uses it to enhance expression, probably under the influence of Donatello. His domestic decorations, however, devalue these effects by stressing colour and surface pattern.

About Columbia Threadneedle Investments

Columbia Threadneedle Investments is a leading global asset manager that provides a broad range of actively managed investment strategies and solutions for individual, institutional and corporate clients around the world. With more than 2000 people including over 450 investment professionals based in North America, Europe and Asia, it manages £373bn of assets (at 31 Dec 2019) across developed and emerging market equities, fixed income, asset allocation solutions and alternatives.

Columbia Threadneedle Foundation is committed to investing in the community through partnerships that create positive social impact. It focuses on charities that use education, art and sport to engender lasting social change. Common threads in its programmes and charity partners include the ability to build skills and confidence, challenge perspectives, and broaden horizons.

Bernard Sunley Foundation

The Sunley Room was established at the National Gallery in 1984 and the Foundation has supported the exhibition programme in the Sunley Room every year since 1990. The Bernard Sunley Foundation is a family grant-making foundation which supports charities in England and Wales that deliver a real community focus and provide greater opportunities for the young, the elderly, the disabled and the disadvantaged.

The schools represented in the 2021 display are:

Alderbrook Primary School, London 
Beavers Community Primary School, London 
Bridgewater Primary School, Northampton 
Bromley High School GDST, Kent  
Caroline Chisholm School, Northampton 
Cleveland Road Primary School, Essex 
Eton End School, Berkshire  
Etz Chaim Jewish Primary School, London 
Exeter Junior School, Exeter 
Gateway School, Buckinghamshire  
Gordon Primary School, Essex          
Grafton Primary School, London 
Grundisburgh Primary School, Suffolk 
Hartwell Primary School, Northamptonshire  
Hill Top CE Primary School and Nursery, Bradford  
Hornbill School, British Forces Brunei  
Hyde Park Junior School, Plymouth  
John Bunyan Primary School, Essex 
King Edward’s Junior School, Bath 
Kingswood Parks Primary School, Hull  
Kingswood Primary School, Gloucestershire 
Laddingford St Mary’s C of E Primary School, Kent 
Mab’s Cross Community Primary School, Lancashire  
North Mymms St Mary's CE Primary School, Hertfordshire 
Sellincourt Primary School, London 
St Benedict’s Junior School, London  
St James CE Primary School, London 
Trinity Primary Academy, London 
Two Mile Ash School, Buckinghamshire  
Woodford Halse Primary Academy, Northamptonshire

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