Artist Study: Cimabue

Artist study is something we have done for the last couple of years.  Whilst we were studying the ancient civilisations I couldn’t really study a particular artist, only the general patterns and rules of art as applied to whatever culture we were studying at the time.  I LOVE art and really wanted to do some sort of art appreciation.  It was Barb  (http://harmonyartmom.blogspot.co.uk/)  who introduced me to the idea of artist study.  It sounded so simple.  It sounded like something I could do and would really enjoy.  I tried to pick artists that were loosely linked to something the children enjoyed.  For example, when they were all doing ballet classes we studied Degas; when they were studying creation, we looked at the art of Michelangelo.  This year we are studying the Middle Ages.  It was during this period that pieces of art began to be ascribed to individual artists instead of a group of general artisans.  I was very excited to be able, at last, to study artists linked to the time period being studied.  The artists I intend to study with the children this year are:  Cimabue, his student Giotto, the Limbourg brothers, Van Eyck and Fra Angelico.

There is not a huge amount of information to be found about Cimabue in the form of books and videos.  The above book has a synopsis about him and we are using the Giotto books to find out a little bit more.  (Giotto apprenticed under Cimabue).

We did some biographical, introductory work using note pages from http://practicalpages.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/biography-famous-artists-blank-with-map.pdf

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All prints are from http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/search/cimabue/1

Thronender Christus Mit Maria und Johannes (Detail Johannes) 1301- 1302 Mosaic:

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We chatted about the mosaics we had come across before in our art studies, in particular Roman mosaics.  The Celtic farm we visited had an original Roman Hall and we had taken photos of the mosaic floor there and the children had a chance to play with some mosaics themselves:

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We studied the print of the mosaic up close, talking about Cimabue’s use of colour to create depth in John’s gown, the use of halos to denote holiness and the fact that many paintings and works of art at the time were religious as a means of worship.  We talked about the purpose of art in the 14th century and where art would have been found ie NOT in galleries or homes but mainly in places of worship.

IMGP4045I had bought three mosaic kits at the Celt farm and decided now was a good time to use them:

IMGP4044The children had fun making up a design and then sticking all the tile pieces to the card:

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The end result we made into a note page and stuck it in our file (We used note pages from :http://notebookingfairy.com/2011/03/medieval-art-notebooking-pages/ -(Jimmie creates the most wonderful notepages and offers them to her readers for free) :

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The next week we studied Cimabue’s tempera on wood paint:

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I also had a close up print of Christ’s face from the painting above.  We spent some time looking at the three prints and commenting.  I allow any comment and don’t judge or correct at all.  I do this so they can learn that art is personal and elicits all sorts of responses, good and bad.  I hope this transfers to their own work, and makes them a little less critical and allows them to enjoy the process more.  C9 pointed out that Christ was a living colour rather than a dead colour, which I thought a rather interesting observation.  We looked at the symmetry or lack thereof.  We talked about the accuracy of the anatomy and how the paintings looked quite primitive and obvious i.e. Christ’s ribs, rather than the subtlety one might see in later paintings.  The children noticed that baby Jesus’ face looked like an adult’s face, again fairly normal for the paintings of the time.  We also noted that we thought all the faces looked very alike, almost like it was the same person’s head transplanted to different bodies.  Our art appreciation is not terribly knowledgable, and I’m sure a trained teacher would be snickering behind her hand, but the children are learning to look, and more importantly to see.  And the fact is, what one person sees, another misses.  Art is very personal, after all!

Our activity this week was to make some tempera paint and try to replicate some of Cimabue’s art.  I had decided to make up some tempera paint using egg yolk and chalk dust:

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‘Ingredients’ collected: chalk, pestle and mortar,eggs…. oh and we added some children later on for the hard work!
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Crushing the chalk
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Crushing into chalk dust
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All the different colours
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Adding the egg yolk to the powder
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Our first paint
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More mixing
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And more…
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Until we had lots of lovely colours

I was going to allow them to paint on actual wood, but I wanted thin balsa wood that I could still make a note page out of (LOVE our note pages!!).  However I had trouble finding what I was looking for and thought it was probably better to go ahead with some thick card board, than not do anything at all.  The ‘paint’ although thick and slightly lumpy went on the card rather well.  I enjoyed, particularly, the challenge of mixing all these bright colours to achieve some more muted colours.

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The children chose a piece to copy (unless you were T10, who must not have heard the instructions!)
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I even joined in..

And here were the lovely results.  We all had a ball!

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C I just love the bright colours she used
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T chose not to copy but did a manger scene, in keeping with the religious subject matter of Cimabue’s day
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L copied Christ in detail. I think she did a great job mixing all the bright colours to get some lovely dark muted tones
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I chose the same as L

I then stuck the card onto the middle ages note pages Jimmie made.

Lastly, we studied the painting Cimabue did on wet plaster, otherwise known as frescos.  We have studied and made many fresco paintings in our time.  When we studied the Minoans we replicated the dolphin frescos, but by far our favourite experience with frescos was when we were learning about Michelangelo and decided to do some upside down fresco painting! Ah, the memories!  This time we could look at Cimabue’s frescos and compare a little to those we’d come across before.  We talked about subject matter; that Jesus and therefore Christianity was not around during the Minoan times and how they chose to celebrate nature in their art; that Michelangelo had a similar subject matter but that his work tended to be on a much larger scale.  We revisited the problems with fresco work and talked about the reasons painters worked in teams.  We finally studied the specifics of Cimabue’s frescos.

I again wanted the children to try to replicate some of Cimabue’s work.  I think copying the great artists is such a wonderful way to learn art.  I gave each child a copy of the print and asked them to replicate some part of it or all of it if they wanted to.  I made up some wet plaster in a dish and gave it to them just before it had dried completely.

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Mixing the plaster
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Pouring the plaster into the molds (our wonderful butcher gave us these)
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Letting the molds set
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All of us painting
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C thoroughly enjoying herself
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Look at the glee on L’s face!
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T concentrating hard
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C
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L
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T
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And mine

Although we had enjoyed using the tempera paints last week, this week I wanted them to have a greater variety of colours, in particular, some darker shades.  In addition, because of the make up of plaster a binding agent (ie egg yolk) isn’t required to hold the paint on and together so frescos were traditionally painted with pigments dissolved in water.  I chose, for simplicity, to use artists watercolours.

After we had studied about Cimabue we took the opportunity to travel to beautiful London to see some Cimabue art alongside his contemporaries.  The children loved the first half an hour (!) or so but after that they became a bit restless.  As this was only the second time I had taken them to the gallery I think I was unprepared.  The children did a note page about their field trip:

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This has been such a great study for us.  All of us (including the child who really has no interest in art) have so enjoyed it.  In particular, I have enjoyed digging deeper into my children’s thoughts about art.  They are letting me see bits of their heart and the very personal feeling art elicits in them.  I love it!

Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

15 comments

  1. I love the way that you have made tempera paints and frescos. I hadn’t realised that this could be so accessible from home.
    My children only seem to manage about 30 minutes in an art galleries too.

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