Renaissance/Classical Sculpture Challenge

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I have been working with my Grade 6 classes all year on independence, so the format of this lesson is going to be unlike the previous two. My goal is always to foster independent artistic problem-solving skills, and I often give “challenge” lessons with a few instructions, but no step-by-step guides to my classes. At the beginning of the year the sixes hated me not telling them exactly what to do at all times, but they have evolved into fantastically creative and confident individuals over time.

This lesson is Part II of an abridged History of Art in Europe unit I am doing this term while they study Europe in Social Studies. We did medieval art last lesson, and this lesson we moved onto the Renaissance, though in a longer unit I would have done this lesson to kick the unit off because we would have had time to go as far back as ancient Greece and Rome. 

Learning Intentions:

  • Students will be able to create proportional miniature human sculptures. (BC curriculum – Visual Arts A2 (minification))

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Materials:

  • White modeling clay
  • Toothpicks
  • Popsicle sticks (for support)
  • Kleenex/Tissue
  • (optional) rocks
  • (optional) marble slabs
  • (optional) shells

Pre-Lesson Conversation: (15 Minute Art History lesson)

Before the lesson, I showed one slide of Caravaggio’s The Calling of St. Matthew and had the students just sit in silence and observe it, then I asked them to share what they noticed. I then briefly talked about the Renaissance, but this is where, if you were studying this from an ancient Greece/Rome perspective, you could talk about classical sculpture and art. For those of you trying to figure out how to describe the Renaissance to your students, the kid-friendly, somewhat historically correct summary is as follows:

The Renaissance:

The Renaissance was when people started thinking a lot differently. Before this, the church and royalty controlled almost everything, and most people just did what they were told, but during the Renaissance more and more people started asking questions and seeking answers, and they referred to themselves as “humanists.” Instead of someone saying “Do this!” and them saying “Okay,” they asked “why?” It isn’t that they weren’t Christians anymore, because most still were, but they were more thoughtful about their beliefs.

I talked about how Italy was sort of the “capital” of the Renaissance, particularly Florence. I mentioned the Medici family, and one of my students informed her classmates that they were very powerful and killed everyone in their way so they could be the Pope. I pointed out that, while on the one hand this was a period of enlightenment, it was still a period of horrible people getting their way, but they at least commissioned a lot of art.

I used the Ninja Turtles to guide a brief look at some of the artwork from that period. Donatello, Raphael, Leonardo, and Michelangelo. Miraculously, almost all my students know who the Ninja Turtles are, even though they are more of a thing of my generation.

Instructions given:  

We looked at Michelangelo’s David (censored, of course, as it would have been the talk of the school otherwise), and I showed the following slide. Note: David is a perfect example when talking about correct proportions – ask the students to identify the part of David that is not in correct proportions (his huge hands!)

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Note: I did not say they had to stand up…I wanted them to spend their time making sure the person looked proportionally correct, and it would have to have massive tree trunk legs in order to be free standing when it is made out of modeling clay, and then some.

A selection of the results:

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Left to right: Mermaid on the Rocks, Tintin reading, Greek Katniss, a bride, Venus? looking in a mirror, woman, mermaid on the rock, a woman with a cape, and the Thinker.

My students were very inspired by Rodin’s The Thinker, and mermaids it seems.

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