Fifth Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 13 - Italian Renaissance Sculpture


Look carefully at Michelangelo's sculpture of David.

Look at Donatello's rendition of David.

Consider technical differences between sculpture in stone and in bronze.

Recall events from Michelangelo's life supporting his talent for sculpture.

Look at other statues of the Old Testament figure of David (optional).


Photograph of Michelangelo's David, see Suggested Books below

Photograph of Donatello's David, see Suggested Books below

Photographs of other statues of David (optional)

Biographical material about Michelangelo from Lesson 12

Suggested Books

Di Cagno, Gabriella. Michelangelo. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1996.

Excellent as an adjunct to this lesson. See reproduction of Donatello's St. George on p. 6. Pp. 24 & 25 are devoted to reproductions and information about Michelangelo's David as well as a reproduction of Donatello's bronze David for comparison.

Morrison, Taylor. The Neptune Fountain: The Apprenticeship of a Renaissance Sculptor. New York: Holiday House, 1997.

Like Morrison's book about a fresco painter, the fictitious story is set in Renaissance Italy with text and illustrations by the author. Morrison makes the life of the apprentice believable and manages to include a great deal of technical information about the collection of materials, as well as the art and craft of creating sculpture.

Opie, Mary-Jane. Sculpture. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1994.

Part of Dorling Kindersley's wonderful Eyewitness Art series, with the usual layout of one heavily-illustrated chapter for each two-page spread. Good examples of Greek and Roman sculpture are on pp. 22-23 and 24-25 respectively and would be useful for showing influence on Italian Renaissance sculpture. Michelangelo's David is pictured on p. 37; slightly earlier versions of David (by Donatello and Verocchio) are on p. 33.

Raboff, Ernest. Michelangelo Buonarroti. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.

Part of Harper's "Art for Children" series, this is a very different children's biography from the Mike Venezia one. Although Michelangelo's David is not pictured, many other sculptures of the artist are reproduced with sensitive questions and observations about the artist as sculptor specifically.

Background for Teacher

The last time the students observed and discussed sculpture was towards the end of the Second Grade, when they studied the Ganesha from India, the seated Buddha from Thailand, and finally a sculpture of Hellenistic wrestlers as a part of their unit on Ancient Greece. If the slides of those works are still available to you (#17, 18, and 20 in the plastic sleeve for Second Grade), you may want to show them to the class by way of review. The Greek sculpture would be particularly relevant to this lesson on High Renaissance sculpture.

The Core Knowledge sequence suggests including Donatello's St. George, but it proves extremely difficult to find photographs in books available to young people, so we have chosen to compare and contrast the Leonardo David with the statue of David by Donatello.


Begin the class by asking the name of the Italian Renaissance artist whose work was studied in the last lesson (Michelangelo). Ask: What kind of artwork of Michelangelo did you see last time? (fresco, painting, ceiling of Sistine Chapel, "The Creation of Adam") Besides painting frescoes, what other medium is Michelangelo most famous for? (sculpture) Review some of the events of Michelangelo's life (from books or from Lesson 12) and tell the students that--in spite of his father's objections--Michelangelo was determined from the first to be a sculptor.

Tell the students that the Michelangelo sculpture they will be studying today is called David, depicting the Old Testament figure who defeated Goliath in a famous battle. Show the class a picture of the David and tell them that Michelangelo was commissioned by the republic of Florence to make this sculpture and that he began the work in 1501, when he was just 26 years old, and finished it in 1504. Indicate those years on the class timeline and ask the students: What was the last time you looked at some sculpture of naked human figures and where would we put it on our timeline? (Second Grade, sculpture of Greek wrestlers, ancient Greece, between 200 and 100 B.C.) If you are able to use the slide from Second Grade, show it to the class to refresh their memories. Otherwise, show them some photographs of classical Greek sculpture. Ask them: About how many years had elapsed between the time of classical Greek sculpture and Michelangelo's David? (about 1600 or 1700 years)

Ask the students: What does sculpture have that painting lacks? (3-dimensionality, mass) If necessary, review those concepts briefly with the class to refresh their memories (difference between square and cube, circle and sphere, etc.) Ask: If one of the most important elements of sculpture is mass, what is the main problem a sculptor faces? (supporting, balancing the figure or figures) Tell the students that in the Middle Ages, sculpture tended to be part of the walls of churches and cathedrals, so the walls supported the figures. Ask them: What other differences do you think of when you think of Medieval church sculpture? (figures are clothed, sometimes you can't tell they have human bodies under clothing, see them only from the front) If you have some illustrations of Medieval religious sculpture, show those to the class as you talk about these characteristics.

Tell the students that, except for sculptures of Jesus on the cross, Medieval figures were always dressed. Ask them: What about classical Greek sculpture? (usually naked) What did the Greeks believe about the naked human body? (very beautiful) What evidence do we have about the Greek attitude towards the naked human body? (Greek games, development of muscles, reverence for athletic skill, power of human body)

Have the students look again at Michelangelo's David and ask: Do you think Michelangelo's conception was more like that of the Greeks or the Medieval? (Greeks) Why?

(Accept any thoughtful answer.)

Ask the class: Can you see the muscles in the figure of David?

Does David look as though he's really standing on something solid? How can you tell? (most of his weight is on one leg) Do you ever stand like that? (Have everyone get up anddemonstrate what that looks and feels like.)

Can you see muscles anywhere in the body? Where? (Accept any answers that indicate keen observation.)

How did Michelangelo know so much about the muscles in the human body and the way

the body moves? (dissected corpses, observed movement, saw Greek and Roman sculpture that was rediscovered during the Italian Renaissance)

Do you think you can walk all around this sculpture or is it a relief sculpture? (can walk around it)

How tall do you think this David is? (Let them guess, then tell the students that David is about 13 feet tall and weighs more than 11,000 pounds.)

At this point, if you have a photograph of Donatello's David, show it to the class and tell them it was done in Florence by another Italian Renaissance sculptor named Donatello about 70 years before Michelangelo's. Ask the students to comment on the similarities (naked body, free-standing, triumphant) and differences (Donatello's doesn't look as strong; implements are more important; has hat and boots and sword). Tell the class that the wreath surrounding David's hat in the Donatello sculpture is a laurel wreath, a symbol of the Medici family of Florence, and which they may also remember as a symbol of triumph from ancient Greek Olympic Games.

Ask the students whether they think Donatello's David is smaller or larger than Michelangelo's (smaller; about 5 feet high). Remind the class that another problem that sculptors have is finding material that is strong and durable enough to withstand the elements, since most sculpture stands outdoors in public places. Ask them: What material do you think the Donatello sculpture is made of ? (bronze) Tell them that bronze is a very strong metal which is an alloy of copper and tin and that people learned how to cast bronze as long ago as the Bronze Age, but that it was the Greeks who developed the technique of using a wax model within a casing of clay; the wax would dissolve when the molten bronze was poured into it, which is why it is sometimes called a "lost wax technique." This is the same technique that goldsmiths and modern jewelers use to cast fine rings and other jewelry of gold. The technique was used by the Romans after the Greeks, and--if it weren't for its description in some Medieval manuscripts--the technique might have been lost after the Romans. It was in the Italian Renaissance that the technique was revived, translating the information from the ancient manuscripts.

Ask what material Michelangelo used for his sculpture of David? (marble) Ask them: Where does marble come from? (quarries in the earth) Tell them that Michelangelo's marble was taken from a very famous quarry in Carrara, in Italy, and that Michelangelo and other Italian Renaissance sculptors sometimes spent months at the quarry picking out the piece of marble and supervising its removal from the earth and its transport back to the city where it was needed. In the time of Michelangelo, the marble would have been extracted by drilling many holes in the rock, inserting wedges made of wood into the holes and them soaking them with water so they would swell, expand, and force the piece of marble to break away. The piece would then be moved on rollers with rope to the nearest river or sea port, because shipping on water was easier and safer than over land. If Michelangelo's finished statue of David was over 13 feet tall, just imagine the size of the piece of marble required!

If there is time and interest, have the students discuss the differences between the depiction of the character of David in the two statues, based on the implements each shows (or doesn't show), the posture of the character, the expression on the face of the character, and what it might tell us about the artist's patriotic feelings about the republic of Florence.

Fifth Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 14 - Italian Renaissance Architecture


Recall Brunelleschi as the architect of the dome of the Florence Cathedral (review from Lesson 6)

Recall some architectural ideals from Ancient Greece.

Observe St. Peter's in Rome as a later example of an Italian Renaissance dome.

Complete a writing activity.


Photograph of Brunelleschi's dome, see Suggested Books

Photograph of St. Peter's dome, see Suggested Books

Picture of the Pantheon in Rome (optional)

Paper and pencils for each student (or journals)

Suggested Books

Bergere, Thea and Richard. From Stones to Skyscrapers: A Book About Architecture. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1960.

Not a new book, but available in the library and it provides a good review/overview for the students of representative architectural buildings they have studied in Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, Medieval Europe and Islam, as well as in the Renaissance and beyond. Buildings are sketched with pen and ink, which is particularly effective in showing the element of line. A brief section on St. Peter's is on pp. 57-59.

Brown, David. How Things Were Built. New York: Random House, 1992.

See pp. 56-57 for illustrations and descriptions of details of Brunelleschi's dome. A detailed description and colored drawing of the Roman Pantheon are on pp. 42-43.

Cole, Alison. The Renaissance. London: Dorling Kindersley in association with The National Gallery, London, 1994.

A good illustration of Brunelleschi's dome for the Cathedral at Florence is included.

Di Cagno, Gabriella. Michelangelo. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1996.

Good adjunct to this lesson. See pp. 56 & 57 for a chapter and details on Michelangelo's plans for completing St. Peter's and a good comparison of the dome of Michelangelo at Rome with that of Brunelleschi at Florence Cathedral. Pp. 18 and 19 deal with architecture specifically and include a photograph of Brunelleschi's dome.

Isaacson, Philip M. Round Buildings, Square Buildings, & Buildings That Wiggle Like a Fish. New York: Knopf, 1988.

This is one of the best books available for students to browse through in order to be inspired by the ideas of architecture in a cross-cultural perspective. Striking color photographs were taken by the author. The dome of St. Peter's is pictured as #56 on p. 68; Brunelleschi's dome, as #59 on p. 72.

Venezia, Mike. Michelangelo. Chicago Childrens Press, 1991.

A good photograph of the dome of St. Peter's is on p. 28.

The Visual Dictionary of Buildings. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1992.

Excellent for review of Greek and Roman buildings (pp. 8-13), typical Renaissance buildings (pp. 26-29), and for detailed drawings and identification of terms for designing and building domes (pp. 40-41).

Note for the Teacher:

The students were introduced to Brunelleschi and his dome in Lesson 6, as background to

Raphael's painting The Marriage of the Virgin. You may want to check that lesson for pronunciation of the name and to ascertain what the class should be able to recall about the role architecture played in ideas about perspective in the early Italian Renaissance. In the Third Grade, students are first introduced to a domed building in their study of the Pantheon of Ancient Rome, but this year's fifth graders do not have the benefit of that lesson and will need to be told about it.

World History Lesson 13 presented material about patronage in Florence and Rome, comparing and contrasting the patronage of the Medici family in Florence with that of Pope Julius at Rome. Reviewing parts of that lesson would be helpful to the students' understanding of a context for the two architectural structures they study in this art lesson.


Show the class pictures of Brunelleschi's Florence Cathedral and of St. Peter's in Rome and then ask them: What do these two great buildings have in common? (domes) Say to the students: You have probably seen pictures of these two domed buildings before, but even if you haven't, you could probably make a good guess as to what historical period and what country they were built in. For instance, do you think they could have been built in Ancient Greece? Why or why not? (no domed buildings) What about Ancient Egypt? (no domed buildings) What do you think is so difficult about the architecture of a domed building? (Accept any reasonable answer that addresses the engineering feat of supporting that particular shape.) Tell the students that in Ancient Rome they built a wonderful domed building that still stands. It is called the Pantheon. (Show a photograph of the Pantheon if you have one.) One of the reasons the Romans were such good builders was that they figured out how to use concrete, which made the walls very strong and stable.

Ask the class: Who can tell me the country and time of origin of these two buildings? (Italian Renaissance) What kind of buildings do you think they are? (churches or cathedrals) Tell the students that the first one you showed them was built by an architect named Brunelleschi. Remind them that they talked about Brunelleschi when they began talking about the artistic ideals of the Renaissance, and it is one of the first great achievements of that period. It was built under the patronage of one of the Medici family, and that should be a clue as to the name of the city where it stands. What city was ruled in the Renaissance by the Medici? (Florence) And who were some of the other artists we have studied who produced worked there? (Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Botticelli)

Tell the students that Brunelleschi spent about 16 years designing and constructing the dome of Florence Cathedral--from 1420 to 1436. (Indicate by showing on the timeline that this was during the very early part of the Italian Renaissance.) He had by this time spent years studying Roman methods of building and figured out a way to build the dome without having temporary supports for the center. He built two domes, one within the other, and the inner dome was the thicker one. It was built up with rings of large flat bricks, very slowly, so that the mortar from one ring was dried and hard before the next was put on. That made it self-supporting. At three different levels heavy chains made of stone and iron were wrapped all around the dome to counteract the forces pushing it outward, and (point out the ribs) vertical ribs connected the inner and outer domes.

Next, tell the students that, although the dome is probably the most important part of the Florence Cathedral, there has to be a design for the rest of the building that is architecturally pleasing. Tell them that, since the building was designed for worship, it had a very particular design. Ask them: Who remembers what the most important symbol is for the Christian religion? (the cross) Tell them that ever since the Middle Ages, almost all Christian churches and cathedrals were built in the shape of a Latin cross, which looks like the figure at the right. The long vertical part of the cross is called the nave of the church, (write the italicized terms on the board) and the shorter horizontal part is called the transept (or sometimes, the arms). The part where the two lines cross one another is called the crossing. The Florence Cathedral had actually been under construction at least a hundred years before Brunelleschi began his work, but nothing had been built over the crossing, because the distance was so great. It was 138 feet in diameter, and it took all Brunelleschi's knowledge of engineering and proportion to figure out how to build the big dome over the crossing.

Hold up a picture of the second dome and tell the students that this dome was built nearly 100 years after Brunelleschi's and inspired by it. Tell them: The architect who designed this dome was the same man who painted the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Who was that? (Michelangelo) Even more than as a painter, what other form of art do we associate with Michelangelo? (sculpture) Which of Michelangelo's sculpture have you looked at in particular? (David is the obvious answer, but they may have seen others as well. Accept their answers.) Say to them: This is yet a third form of art that Michelangelo excelled at. What do sculpture and architecture have in common? (3 dimensions, mass, sometimes use similar materials, outdoors) Tell them this cathedral whose dome was designed by Michelangelo the architect is called St. Peter's and is in the Vatican, in Rome. Ask them? Who would be the patrons who commissioned the dome of St. Peter's in Rome? (the popes, specifically Pope Paul III) Tell them that Michelangelo built a large model of the dome of wood, which took several years to build. Michelangelo's dome also has an inner and an outer dome, and it has ribs the way Brunelleschi's dome had. (Show the ribs in the picture.) This dome took so long to build that Michelangelo never completed it. All in all, the whole cathedral took from 1506 to 1626 to build. What shape do you think St. Peter's Cathedral has? (a Latin cross) And where in that design do you think the dome is? (at the crossing, where the nave and transept cross) What architectural features do you notice Michelangelo's dome has that are not a part of Brunelleschi's? (pillars or columns, small openings between the ribs, a lot more embellishments and decorations) Which do you like better and why? (Give them a chance to express their preferences.)


Have the students take out their journals or pass out paper for writing. Give them a choice of two possible topics for writing.

1. Which elements of art do you see in these two works of architecture? (Be specific in describing them.)


2.How are sculpture and architecture the same? How are sculpture and architecture different? (Use specific examples from one or both the domes you have looked at today.)

Fifth Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 15 - Renaissance in the North: Jan van Eyck


Observe and discuss van Eyck's The Arnolfini Marriage.

Recall a painting by Peter Bruegel the Elder, studied in Third Grade.

Observe realistic details in these paintings.

Recall another wedding portrait (Raphael's The Marriage of the Virgin from Lesson 6)

Locate van Eyck and Bruegel on class timeline.

Complete a description of one of the wedding scenes they have seen in the paintings.


Classroom-size map of the world or of Europe

Reproduction of Jan van Eyck's The Marriage of Arnolfini (or The Arnolfini Marriage), see Suggested Books below

Reproduction of Peter Bruegel the Elder's Peasant Wedding, see Suggested Books below

Reproduction of Raphael's Marriage of the Virgin

Suggested Books

Student Reference

Cumming, Robert. Just Look...A Book about Painting. New York: Scribner's Sons, 1979.

An interesting book about looking at paintings for students. The questions posed by the author are generated by the paintings alone without reference to outside information and are good for stimulating responses. A colored reproduction of The Marriage of Arnolfini is on p. 15. Another well-known painting by Bruegel called February or The Gloomy Day is reproduced on p. 12.

Howarth, Sarah. Renaissance Places. Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press, 1992.

This is a very readable book for fifth graders and could serve as a good review to the whole unit they have been studying for World Civilization on the Renaissance. A colored reproduction of The Marriage of Arnolfini is on p. 42.

Pescio, Claudio. Rembrandt and Seventeenth-Century Holland. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1995.

One of Bedrick's "Masters of Art" series, this book includes the typical facing-page chapters covering every aspect of its subject, including trade, mapmaking, etching. A good reproduction of The Marriage of Arnolfini is on p. 7.

Teacher Reference

Beckett, Sister Wendy. The Story of Painting. London & New York: Dorling Kindersley in association with the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1994.

Sister Wendy has chosen to include the van Eyck in her long section on Gothic painting. See the reproduction of van Eyck's The Arnolfini Marriage on p. 64 and discussion of the painting that follows. A reproduction of Bruegel the Elder's Peasant Wedding (a.k.a. The Wedding Feast) is in large reproduction on pp. 148-149 and a helpful Northern Renaissance Timeline occupies pp. 150 & 151.

Hirsch, E. D., Jr. ed. What Your Fifth Grader Needs to Know. New York: Doubleday Dell, 1993.

A good discussion of van Eyck's use of oil paints and his Arnolfini Marriage is on pp. 244-245. There is also a black and white reproduction of the painting.

Background for the Teacher

Not a great deal of biographical detail is known about Jan van Eyck, who was born around 1390. He apparently had a brother, Hubert, with whom he collaborated for a time and who died in 1426. The van Eyck family was from Maastricht, which is in the southern part of what is now Holland, and which was a powerful Roman Catholic city in Medieval times. Jan's career is well documented after 1422, when he began working as a court painter for John of Bavaria, who was the Count of Holland. From about 1430 until his death in 1441, Jan lived in Bruges, in what is now Belgium, and it is there that the painting of Arnolfini and his Wife was done in 1434.

The van Eyck brothers were for a long time credited with discovering, or even inventing, the use of oil paints as opposed to the egg tempera generally in use up to that time. In fact, it seems that the van Eyck contribution was in developing a combination of linseed and nut oils plus a kind of varnish (made of various resins) as the medium in which to grind pigments, all of which made it possible to change radically the method of painting. Up until that time, artists would need to put a painting in the sun to allow each application of paint to dry before putting on the next. With the kind of oil-based pigment the van Eycks developed, painters were able to allow different layers of paint to show through one another, which provided a much richer play of light and shadow and a kind of jewel-like sheen to emerge. The details caught in the portrait of the Arnolfinis would not have been possible without these changes in the technique of using paint and color. These changes affected painters of the Italian Renaissance as well as the Flemish and German painters of the North.


Show the Jan van Eyck painting to the class and tell them that it is called The Arnolfini Marriage and was painted by an artist named Jan van Eyck (YAHN von-IKE). Tell them that van Eyck was a painter born in Maastricht, which is in the south of today's Netherlands (have someone find Holland on the map) and died in a city called Bruges (BROOZH), which is due west, slightly northwest of Maastricht (mah STREEKT), in what is now a country called Belgium (have someone find both the modern city and country on the map), but was then known as Flanders. A number of famous painters came from that area and were known as Flemish painters, from the name Flanders.

Ask the students where on their timeline they would place this painting. (Encourage as many responses and reasons as possible.) Tell them that actually this painting belongs in the period you have talked about as the early Renaissance. The painting was done in 1434. (Indicate on the timeline where that falls, or have someone in the class do it.) This means it was earlier than Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel paintings, earlier than Leonardo's Mona Lisa, and earlier than the Botticelli Death of Venus that they studied. Ask the students: What other painting did you look at that depicted a marriage? (Raphael's Marriage of the Virgin)

Put the two paintings side by side and tell the students that you want them to compare and contrast the two. First of all, ask them: What kind of a painting would you say the van Eyck painting is? Is it a landscape, a still life, what else do you think it might be? (a kind of double portrait) What about the Raphael marriage painting? Is that a double portrait? (no) What do you see as prominent in the Raphael painting? (the dome, architecture--maybe a kind of narrative or history painting with architecture and perspective especially important)

What about the location of these two weddings? (Raphael's is outside, with a rabbi and other witnesses prominently figured, with a domed building in the background. Van Eyck's is inside a home with just the bride and groom and their dog pictured.) Tell the class: Actually, there are more than just two people and a dog pictured here. Can anyone see how many people are really present here? (If no one volunteers, tell them to look carefully in the mirror and tell what they can see. They should be able to see 4 figures all together.) Tell the students that people think one of the figures in the mirror is the artist and another is a witness to the wedding. Ask them: Why would they need a witness? (to make the marriage official; they have no priest or rabbi to be the official person to marry them)

Ask the class if someone could give a definition of the word domestic, and, if not, remind them about wild as opposed to domestic animals. Tell them that if a person does domestic work, it usually means cooking or cleaning in a home, rather than working for a company outside the home. Discuss the concept of domestic with them until you feel they understand it, and then encourage them to think about the difference between the two paintings as if one were a very public painting and the other a very domestic one. Ask them: What about the van Eyck double portrait makes it seem domestic? (inside a house, inside a bedroom, the outside shoes have been taken off, the dog is small and could be described as a lap dog, the mirror reflects what is happening inside the room even further) What makes the Raphael painting public, or other than domestic? (outside, large outside space, prominent domed building, other people attending, a rabbi performs the ceremony)

Write the names of the two paintings on the board along with the names of their painters. Write the words domestic under one and public under the other. Next ask the students: What is the difference between the two couples involved in these two marriages? (Raphael's is the marriage of two figures from the Bible, known to all Christians, Mary and Joseph, mother of Jesus Christ. Van Eyck's is the marriage of two people we've never heard of or seen paintings of before or since. We only see that they are wealthy and well dressed.) By this time, you could either do a Venn diagram or start a list to go through the elements of art with the students, comparing and contrasting the two paintings, and giving the students a chance to discuss and enlarge upon each of the phrases you write down. If you choose to do the latter, the two lists might look something like the following:

Raphael's Marriage of the Virgin van Eyck's The Arnolfini Marriage

Italian Renaissance Northern, Flemish Renaissance

public space domestic space

architecture very prominent inside one room

perspective very precise perspective creates illusion of depth

range of color somber & not very wide colors very jewel-like and lustrous

light surrounds the scene light comes from window and 1 candle

not great contrast of light & shadow light & shadow create the forms

mirror & reflections in chandelier very important

texture not so important texture is very clear--fur edging on man's clothing, luster of woman's dress, dog's coat, polished convex surface of mirror

Mary & Joseph bareheaded & dressed modestly Arnolfinis have elaborate clothing & headdresses

Biblical figures newly wealthy merchant class people

painting might hang in a church or public place painting created to hang in person's home or a court

When the students have exhausted the comparison and contrast (you could include line and shape as well as symmetry and balance if you wish to add to the lists), tell them a little about the reasons for the luster of the color in the van Eyck painting. Tell them how van Eyck's discoveries allowed painters to use pigments in oil over one another instead of having to let each layer of color dry completely before painting any further, allowing a greater expression of light and shadow. Remind them of the Rembrandt (Dutch) painting of The Man With the Golden Helmet they looked at in the Third Grade and relate that to the Flemish painting they have just discussed.

Finally, point out to the class how the paintings they have seen have changed over chronological time in terms of who the subjects are. Remind them of the mythological gods and goddesses painted by the Greeks, the royal subjects painted by the Egyptians, the Biblical figures painted in Medieval and Gothic religious paintings, and now they are seeing some wealthy middle-class merchants (who happen to be from Italian families living in Flanders because of their businesses) in very detailed paintings. Remind them of the Peter Bruegel painting called Peasant Wedding that they studied in Third Grade. Ask if they remember what country Bruegel the Elder was from (Holland, Netherlands--point out on the map) and when he painted it (1567-68) and how much detail and expression there was in that painting, done more than 100 years after the van Eyck wedding scene. Ask the students what class the people in that wedding came from (peasant), and have them recall the realistic details that were included in that painting. If you have access to a reproduction of Peasant Wedding, show it to the class and ask the students to look carefully at all three (or only the Raphael and the van Eyck if that's all you have), then take out pencil and paper (or journals) and describe one of the wedding scenes as fully as they can.

Fifth Grade - Visual Arts - Lesson 16 - Dürer


Recall self-portrait as a form of portrait used frequently by artists.

Look carefully at a self-portrait by Albrecht Dürer.

Discuss Dürer's contribution to development of book arts (recall World History Lesson 16).

Observe Dürer's signature in the form of a monogram and create a personal monogram.

Note to the Teacher

This art lesson should not be taught before the students have completed the material from World History Lesson 16, The Reformation.


Classroom-size world map or map of Europe

Reproduction of a Dürer self-portrait, see Suggested Books below

Example of Dürer's monogram, reproduced below

Good drawing paper and magic markers, colored pencils, and/or crayons for each student

Suggested Books

Student Reference

Howarth, Sarah. Renaissance Places. Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press, 1992.

The Chapter on "The Printer's Workshop" is a good supplement to this lesson

Pescio, Claudio. Rembrandt and Seventeenth-Century Holland. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1995.

Another of the "Masters of Art" series, packed with information about Holland--its canals, its development as a trading nation, and its importance in the book arts during the period when Catholic countries were strictly censoring the publication of books. Pp. 52 and 53 provide some of the best described and illustrated material on the printing of engravings and etchings available for students. Dürer is mentioned in passing and credited as one of the first Germans skilled in producing both woodcuts and line engravings.

*Raboff, Ernest. Albrecht Dürer. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.

Another of the "Art for Children" series, Raboff includes three self-portraits of the artist. A good sense of Dürer's life and wide-ranging approach to art are conveyed in this student biography.

Teacher Reference

Beckett, Sister Wendy. The Story of Painting. London & New York: Dorling Kindersley in association with the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1994.

See one of Dürer's 3 self-portrait paintings reproduced on p.152. Pp. 152-156 are devoted to paintings of Dürer, with good reproductions of some of the artist's better known works. A helpful Northern Renaissance Timeline occupies pp. 150 & 151.

*The Raboff paperback would definitely be the best book to borrow or buy for this lesson, since it contains 3 different Dürer self-portraits, the silverpoint print reproduced in black and white, the paintings reproduced in color and large enough to show to the whole class.

Background for Teacher

Albrecht Dürer was born in Nurenberg, Germany in 1471. Both his father and his mother's father were fine goldsmiths, and his godfather was Anthony Koberger, who was one of the finest printers and publishers in Germany. He is probably the first great Protestant painter, having traveled both to Italy and the Netherlands to study painting in both places; nevertheless, his greatest renown came from his woodcuts (he completed more than 200 in his lifetime) and other kinds of fine book illustrations, such as dry point, engraving, and etching. The first self-portrait we have of his was done in silverpoint when he was only 13, and already shows the great sensitivity to expression of face and hands that characterized all of his work.

Dürer was also unusual as an artist because of the amount of writing he did, some of it about technical information on perspective that he had learned in Italy and from his own observations. He kept records of his travels and wrote letters that have been preserved, so we know how to date his works accurately. His characteristic monogram is found on nearly all of his works, and his paintings included religious portraits and altarpieces as well as incredibly detailed, realistic watercolors of flowers, plants, and landscapes. He died in 1528.


Ask the students to recall from their recent History lessons what great invention around the year 1440 deeply influenced the course of the Renaissance and Reformation in northern Europe (Gutenberg's movable type, printing press) Have a few students recall some of the results of that invention and write them on the board. Prominent among these will be the accessibility of books, Bibles, and scientific and philosophical ideas to members of the new wealthy classes of bankers and merchants, especially in countries of northern Europe such as Holland, where book publishing flourished, freed from censorship by the Catholic Church.

Tell the students that the artist whose work they will look at in today's lesson is the first great Protestant painter. Tell them he lived from 1471 until 1528, and ask: What country would you guess a Protestant painter who lived during those years might come from? (Germany) Why? (Martin Luther was German.) Say to them: He was a great painter who traveled to Italy and to Flanders to see and study the Renaissance art there, but he was known first and foremost as a book illustrator. What kinds of illustrations do you think he would have made if they were part of those early printed books? (woodcuts, engravings, etchings) Tell the students that the German artist's name is Albrecht Dürer, that he completed more than 200 woodcuts in his lifetime and that he came from a city in Germany named Nuremberg. (Write the word on the board and have someone find it on the map. Have the same student point out the proximity of Nuremberg to both Italy--especially Venice, where Dürer visited--and to those parts of Belgium and Holland that were at the time called Flanders, as discussed in Art Lesson 15 on Jan van Eyck.)

Tell the students that Dürer's own father as well as his mother's father were both goldsmiths, and ask them to tell you the relationship between goldsmiths and printmakers. (Accept any reasonable answers.) Say to them: Dürer also had for a godfather a man who was one of the most famous book printers and publishers in Germany at the time, so he had a great deal of exposure to printmaking from a very early age.

Next, tell the students that, although Dürer lived so long ago, we know quite exactly what he looked like. Ask them: How do you think that is possible when we know there were no cameras at the time? (portrait) Say to them: That's right, and Dürer did the portraits, so we can safely assume they are good likenesses. What do we call portraits that the artist does of himself? (self-portraits). Show as many of the portraits as you can and have the students observe the many clear details the artist has chosen to portray. These will depend to some extent on the particular self-portrait(s) you show them, but they all show an extremely sensitive, serious face with grave and expressive eyes. They all make a point of showing very sensitive hands and details of costume and texture. Ask them which artist shows us more of the character of his subjects in his portrait--van Eyck in the Arnolfini Wedding or Dürer in his self-portraits (Dürer). Let the students tell you what they see in the self-portraits and what kind of a person they think Dürer may have been.

When they have all had a chance to respond, tell them that Dürer had a very special way of signing his paintings and his prints. Instead of signing his full name and a phrase in Latin, as van Eyck did in the Arnolfini Wedding portrait they saw last time, Dürer used his own initials in a very distinctive monogram. Show them the monogram as reproduced in the three examples here. Be sure that every student recognizes the components of the monogram and tell them that they are going to experiment with making monograms out of their own initials. Point out how, in the case of Dürer, he chose to fit one of his initials inside the other, which heightens the sense of design in his monogram. Say to them: You may choose to use either 2 or 3 of your initials for the monogram. It can be fancy and swirly or very striking and simple.

Pass out paper and drawing materials and suggest to the students that they make at least 3 or 4 different attempts so that they can see how different the possibilities for design can be with the same 2 or 3 letters. Let the students admire one another's results and make sure the initials hang in the classroom.


Beckett, Sister Wendy. The Story of Painting. London & New York: Dorling Kindersley in association with the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1994. (1-56458-615-4)

Bergere, Thea and Richard. From Stones to Skyscrapers: A Book About Architecture. New York:Dodd, Mead, 1960.

Brown, David. How Things Were Built. New York: Random House, 1992. (0-679-82044-7)

Cole, Alison. The Renaissance. London: Dorling Kindersley in association with The National Gallery, London, 1994.

Cumming, Robert. Just Look...A Book about Painting. New York: Scribner's Sons, 1979.0-684-16339-X)

Di Cagno, Gabriella. Michelangelo. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1996. (0-87226-319-3)

Hirsch, E. D., Jr. ed. What Your Fifth Grader Needs to Know. New York: Doubleday Dell, 1993.(0-385-31464-7)

Howarth, Sarah. Renaissance Places. Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press, 1992.(0-56294-089-9)

Isaacson, Philip M. Round Buildings, Square Buildings, & Buildings That Wiggle Like a Fish. New York: Knopf, 1988. (0-394-89382-4)

Morrison, Taylor. The Neptune Fountain: The Apprenticeship of a Renaissance Sculptor. New York: Holiday House, 1997. (0-8234-1293-8)

Opie, Mary-Jane. Sculpture. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1994. (1-56458-495-X)

Pescio, Claudio. Rembrandt and Seventeenth-Century Holland. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1995. (0-87226-317-7)

Raboff, Ernest. Albrecht Dürer. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. (0-06-446071-1)

________. Michelangelo Buonarroti. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. (0-06-446074-6)

Venezia, Mike. Michelangelo. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1991. (0-516-02293-8)

The Visual Dictionary of Buildings. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1992. (1-56458-102-0)