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Stories in Art : Volume 1

Teachers’  Notes

The Teachers’ Notes for Stories in Art provide suggestions from which you can formulate lesson plans.

In my experience, all children love a story and whatever their artistic ability, they also appreciate a fine piece of work, albeit with a subjective view of what is pleasing to the individual.

By introducing a selection of works and the artists who produced them, it is hoped to convey a sense of history, an appreciation of art in a variety of forms and a lasting appetite for visiting galleries, collections or exhibitions.

Art takes many forms and uses a great variety of media subject to trends of what is fashionable in different Ages, reflecting the culture of their place of origin.

If at the end of Stories in Art the child says “I liked that one” or “I didn’t like that one”, may it be from a greater understanding or more considered point of view than when he/she started?

Great Britain is rich in its many collections of great works of art, and although a visit may have to wait until you are on holiday in that area, depending upon your base, there should always be some within easy reach of home (or school).

The focus of this programme is a selection of works made at Wilton House, Wiltshire, so should be part of any itinerary, which includes Stonehenge (10 miles away) and the cathedral city of Salisbury (only 3 miles away).

Wilton House has been the architecturally impressive stately home of the Earls of Pembroke for over 450 years, being currently home to William Herbert the 18th Earl of Pembroke.

The programme takes us inside to meet a “detective” who will encourage pupils to search for clues and the message or meaning of each piece of work, thereby discovering the “STORIES IN ART”.

"We're about three miles from the centre of the cathedral city of Salisbury and about ten miles from the ancient monument of Stonehenge."

STORY 1 : Philip, 4th Earl of Pembroke and his Family
by Sir Anthony van Dyck 1599-1641

This large family portrait is located in the Double Cube Room, so called, as the programme explains, because of its dimensions.  Inigo Jones, who introduced the Palladian style of architecture to this country, designed it on the orders of the 4th Earl.  The central feature of Jones’ suite of State Rooms, the Double Cube Room has been visited by most of our monarchs since Charles 1.  Variously used over the centuries as a dining room, a sitting room and a ballroom, it was the H.Q. of Southern Command during the Second World War and was filled with maps of Normandy so that General Eisenhower and Winston Churchill could plan the D-Day landings.

More recently, the room has been used as a film location.  For example, it has provided historical settings for “The Madness of King George”, “Sense and Sensibility”, “Mrs. Brown”, “Barry Lyndon” and “Bounty”.

Van Dyck’s life and methods of working are outlined.  He was Flemish, coming from an area that is now part of modern day Belgium.  He became court painter to Charles 1 and soon after his arrival in England he was knighted at St. James’s Palace.

"Philip, 4th Earl of Pembroke and his Family
by van Dyck"

"During the Civil War, the Earl supported first one side and then the other..."

"He is said to have never worked for more than an hour at a time on each portrait."

"His servant cleaned his brush..."

"...whilst van Dyck welcomed the next sitter"

This family portrait, in oil on canvas, was probably commissioned on the occasion of the marriage between Philip’s eldest son, Charles, and Mary Villiers, daughter of the Duke of Buckingham.  It was painted in London, 1634-5.

The painting, reputedly the largest ever painted by van Dyck, is described in some detail and the relationships between the members of the family group and between the Earl and Charles 1 are explained.  The Earl had paid homage to the King by obtaining the services of his court painter.  It was then a matter of courtesy to own and display a portrait of Charles 1.

At Wilton there are also portraits of Queen Henrietta Maria and three of their children.

The children, who were to become Charles II, James II and Princess Mary, spent their Summers at Wilton with their parents.  (Mary’s son, William, married James II’s daughter, Mary, and they ruled England as William and Mary.)

Finally, a theory is put forward as to how this huge painting was transported from London to Wilton.

"It must have been rolled up and brought by horse drawn wagon..."

Classroom ideas:

Portraying relationships – paint a family group or a group of friends.

Use photographs to paint portraits of family or pets, which could then be displayed in a Gallery.

Dress a child in period costume – paint a portrait thinking about the background, colours, textures of cloth etc.

The historical elements could also be used if relevant.

STORY 2 : The Bird Trap

by Pieter Brueghel the Younger 1564-1638

Video Clip 56K(1.1Mb) or ADSL (4Mb)
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The Bird Trap can be seen in the Upper Cloisters.  The 11th Earl employed James Wyatt to design cloisters on two levels between 1801 and 1815.  These Gothic cloisters provide passageways around the house.

A little of the background of the Bruegel family dynasty is explained.  The great Pieter Bruegel’s two sons, who were infants when he died, both spelled their name ‘Brueghel’ although their father had dropped the ‘h’ from his signature.  Like van Dyck, Pieter Brueghel the Younger was Flemish.

This painting is very different in size from the previous one, being 38cm by 56cm, and is in oil on wood.  Taken at face value this is a typical wintry scene.

The activities of the people, the bird trap itself and other elements of the painting are described in detail.

Then it is suggested that the painting has a hidden agenda.  Although opinions differ, some experts suggest that the painting had another meaning for the people living in Brueghel’s time.  The children are left to discuss these ideas for themselves after the programme.

"The Bird Trap by Pieter Brueghel the Younger"

"Pieter Bruegel the Elder, gernerally considered to be one of the greatest Flemish artists of the 16th century, founded a dynasty of Flemish painters."

Classroom ideas:

Paint your own Winter Scene or illustrate another season: Spring – kite flying, line of washing; Summer – seaside, harvesting; Autumn – conkers, leaves on bonfires.  Think about the time of day, the light, the colours, the mood of the picture etc.

Make a frame from a small piece of card and then draw or paint what you see in the frame.

The danger of walking on frozen ponds could be highlighted.

STORY 3 : Bust of Florence Nightingale

by Sir John Steell 1804-1891

The bust of Florence Nightingale, dated 1865, can be found in the Gothic Hall.

Background information about the sculptor, Sir John Steell, is given.  He was appointed Sculptor to Queen Victoria for Scotland and was then knighted at the inauguration of the Scottish Memorial to Prince Albert in 1876.

"British soldiers were allied with French and Turkish soldiers to keep the Russians out of the Crimea - a piece of land that juts out into the Black Sea"


The children are asked to look carefully at the craftsmanship of the sculpture and are also given a charming picture of Florence Nightingale with her pet owl to study which provides yet another story.

"There were many famous actions during this campaign, not least of which was The Charge of The Light Brigade."
Background details of Florence Nightingale’s life are given, her involvement in the Crimean War and with nursing generally and also her link with Wilton through Sidney Herbert.  Florence Nightingale’s main family home near Romsey in Hampshire, is now a school (Embley Park School) and she is buried in the family grave at East Wellow also in Hampshire.

"I expect you've heard of her as the Lady with the Lamp from her custom of tending the wounded and dying soldiers in the gloomy candlelit hospital wards."

Classroom ideas:

Model a head – think about textures of hair, skin, and clothes.

Model an animal, fish, bird etc. – use plasticene or clay.

Make a collage owl using torn paper or real feathers, for example.

Historical links could be made with the momentous events taking place in Victorian Britain.


Further cross-curricular ideas:

The geography of the location, the maths of the Cube Room, the poetry of Tennyson and the history surrounding each work could be developed. 

There are also many opportunities to use the selected works as starting points for poetry, writing or drama.  Leading questions would prompt discussion, giving rise to the listing of vocabulary, imagined dialogue between the characters in the paintings and even stories of “What went before?” or “What happened next?” 

All such ideas could be set at an appropriate level for the age and ability of the class.

Jane Chipperfield

© Village Times Ltd. 2003