Sunday, July 8, 2012

Renaissance Reconstructed, ReMixed, and ReDone

A portrait does not merely record someone's features, however, but says something about who he or she is, offering a vivid sense of a real person's presence." - Metropolitan Museum of Art website

The ancient Greeks and Romans depicted important people in profile on coins.  As time past this individual likeness became a one size fits all in the figure type.  Then in the 15th c., Eureka!  Portraits that actually showed a likeness to the sitter were reborn!  This was a reflection of the humanist interest in man-each individual man, woman, girl, and boy!  

Approx. 54-68 AD

Most portraits painted during the Renaissance followed a conventional format.  The profile view of the ancient past was again employed in the 15th c. 

Portrait of a Man and Woman at a Casement, ca. 1440-44,  Fra Fillipo Lippi (Italian, Florentine), tempera on wood

Often the sitter is in the foreground and in the background we are presented with an enchanting Italian landscape which properly diminishes in space!  Check out that true to life blue mist!

Battista Sforza and Federico da Montefeltro, ca. 1465-66, Piero della Francesca 

Renaissance artists soon began to use the three quarter view as well, allowing the viewer to be more engaged with the sitter.  Sometimes a window sill was included with items or objects that symbolized something about the subject. And keep noticing that gorgeous landscape!

Portrait of a Lady, c. 1490,  Domenico Ghirlandaio

My 5th grade Renaissance scholars needed a new challenge this year.  So I got to thinking, why not roll all these concepts into one long art history and studio lesson?  First we learned the art history basics.  Then the students were instructed to come up with a thoughtful question on the topic.  Next, technology!  A Face Time date with "Mr. Martinez" from Ars Opulenta (  By the way, you too, can contact him for a technology instruction date. Each student used my i phone to ask him their pre-approved questions and each answer invoked hearty discussion and often many giggles as the students learned about clothing laws and hair dying techniques among other things!

Next the studio part.  The kids selected printed images of Renaissance portraits by the masters.  They were asked to use them as a jumping off point to sketch a landscape on water color paper.  We spent several classes getting acquainted with water color painting. 

5th Grade Student Work 2011-2012

Next the kids made "complicated paper" a la Anne Bagby  This involves designing and cutting EZ Cut ( and printing paper. This paper became a new set of Renaissance clothing for their figures.  To finish off the "edited" portraits they added faux wood, scrapbook paper frames reminiscent of the casements sometimes depicted during the Renaissance.

5th Grade Student Work
The 5th graders are now begging for a field trip to Italy!

"... Just to sit and look at the landscape. An inner quietness. After dinner, to sit on the back porch and look at the light. No need for talking. For any kind of communication."- Lee Krasner


  1. I loved working with your students. Bright, interested, curious, involved - what can be more encouraging about our future than interacting with kids like these who, thanks to their insightful teacher, aren't satisfied with the received wisdom and are accustomed to scratching the surface for deeper meaning! I'm looking forward to more bi-continental dialog with them.
    Eugene Martinez

    1. Thanks so much for your kind and encouraging words, Eugene! But your vast knowledge and teaching skills really engaged the students and pulled them in like a magnet. I hope you will be ready for them when they reach 8th grade and finally arrive in Florence for you to teach them face to face!

  2. Your students' portraits are terrific!

    1. So glad you liked them! The kids enjoyed the seeing the various techniques come together as one project. A lesson in planning, too!

  3. Your students' work is a reflection of their talent but also of the inspiration that has been shared with them. All any of us really needs is encouragement and the space to "be" and the creative juices will flow. What I like is the experimentation with other forms, other techniques and then just being allowed to "go".

  4. Sherry! Yes! That is my vision for them. So often people have such low expectations of these young ones. But with exposure and hand holding they can really take off! Thanks for your insightful comment.