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Fine Art in Five Facts: Mona Lisa by Leonard di ser Piero da Vinci

HeatherAnne NorburyComment

By C2RMF: Galerie de tableaux en très haute définition: image page - Cropped and relevelled from File:Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, from C2RMF.jpg. Originally C2RMF: Galerie de tableaux en très haute définition: image page, Public Domain,

Mona Lisa by Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci

1. While many people refer to Leonardo as "da Vinci", that is not his surname. "Da Vinci" references what part of Florence (in modern day Italy) he was from. Calling him "da Vinci" would be like calling you "of Kansas City" or "of your hometown". "Di ser Piero" means "son of (Mes)ser Piero, referencing his father. During his time, he would have been referred to as just "Leonardo", his given name. What name do you like to go by? Do you use your first name, as is typical in the modern U.S., a middle name, a nickname?  If you got to pick your own name, what would you choose?

2. Many people, experts and lay people alike, believe the Mona Lisa to be the most well-known art in the history of the world. It is certainly a popular subject of parody art.  Parody is where another person will imitate the style of an artist in an exaggerated way, generally to be funny. Miss Piggy, Princess Leia and Lego figures have all had their turn at playing Mona Lisa in a parody of the painting. Have your teacher or parent help you look up Mona Lisa parodies on Google. Which one do you think is the funniest? [Grown ups! Make sure you have Safe Search on before doing this!]

3. While Leonardo left no definite record of who the Mona Lisa model was, historians mostly agree that she was Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo. Her first name was not Mona. "Mona" in Italian is a polite form of address, like Madam or "my lady" in English - in other words, Madam Lisa. Visit these sites (again - with your grown up) to see different ways of saying Madam and Sir in other languages. Which do you think would sound nice with your name?

4. Mona Lisa is the English name for this painting. In Italian, the painting is known as "La Gioconda", the feminine form of Lisa's married name. Gioconda also means "happy" or "jovial". Historians believe that the painting was commissioned for Lisa and Francesco del Giocondo's new home and in celebration of their second child's birth. Think about all the art you have made so far. Is there one piece you are really proud of and you'd like to see hanging in a museum some day? 

5. Remember the painting from last week? The Horse Fair?  That painting was REALLY BIG. A lot of people imagine Mona Lisa to be very big as well. A lot of art from that time period was bigger than life. But the painting was relatively small, only 77 cm x 53 cm (30 in x 21 in). Measure that out. That is approximately the same size as standard poster board (28 in x 22 in). Mona Lisa was painted on wood - a panel of poplar wood - not canvas. Over the years, the wood has warped and cracked. Through expert restoration work and a strictly controlled environment at the Louvre, Mona Lisa is being protected and preserved so she can smile upon her admirers for many generations to come. 

The Mona Lisa on display in the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence, 1913. Museum director Giovanni Poggi (right) inspects the painting. By Unknown - The Telegraph, Public Domain,

Fine Art in Five Facts: The Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur

Art & MusicHeatherAnne NorburyComment

By Rosa Bonheur - Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain,

The Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur

1. Rosa Bonheur was renowned as the best animal painter of her time, known as an animalier. In The Horse FairRosa achieved a level of artistic excellence that had not yet been seen by any artist, male or female. Do you like to paint animals? What is your favorite animal to draw?

2. Rosa Bonheur came from a family of artists. Her father was a minor landscape painter, her mother a piano teacher. Her siblings, Auguste, Juliette & Isidore Bonheur, were all talented animaliers as well. The sociologist and anthropologist Sir Francis Galton used the family as an example of "Hereditary Genius", in his essay by the same title. Sir Galton hypothesized that a person's natural abilities are derived solely by "inheritance" - that they pass down from your parents and aren't influenced by a person's environment. What do you think of this idea? Do you share some of the same talents as your parents or your siblings? Or are you more influenced by the world around you?  Or is it a mix of both? 

3. After the passing of her mother when she was 11, Rosa's father, Oscar Raymond, tried to exploit his four talented children, making them work in his studio. He even tried to get Rosa to sign HIS name to her art! She refused and left to live with close friends who nurtured her and her art. It was common practice during that time for women artists to use a male pseudonym, but Rosa went on to paint and gain fame with her feminine name. Why do you think female artists would use a male name? Do you think women still do that today? 

4. At that time, most animaliers focused on the personalities of the animals they painted or sculpted. Rosa Bonheur was more interested in the proper anatomy of the animals. She would visit veterinary schools, horse fairs and even slaughterhouses to study the muscle structure of the animals. These were dangerous places for a woman so she would dress as a man and act accordingly, though she also carried a small handgun just in case she was discovered! In The Horse Fair, Rosa has painted a horse auction or sale. Horses would be paraded by potential buyers. If you were there, which horse would you buy? 

5. The Horse Fair is a very large painting - 8 1/4 feet tall and 16 1/2 feet wide! Try to find a wall in your school or home that you think is that big, then get adult help to measure it. Were you close?  If not, use the tape measure to measure just how big this painting is. What do you think some of the challenges are with painting a canvas that big?




Fine Art in Five Facts: San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk by Claude Monet

Art & MusicHeatherAnne NorburyComment

By Claude Monet - Beyeler Foundation, Public Domain,

San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk by Claude Monet

1. San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk is one of many versions of the same scene. San Giorgio Maggiore is an island in the lagoon of Venice, Italy. Claude Monet painted it as a series of views during his only trip to Venice. By this time in his life (he was 68), Monet didn't paint from life, in front of the subject. He would paint in rough images then finish the paintings later at his studio. Think of someplace you've been that was really beautiful and try to paint a picture from memory. How easy or difficult was it to remember the colors and details? 

2. His wife, Alice, wrote to her sister daily and, thanks to these letters, historians know quite a bit about his time there. When Monet first arrived, he exclaimed about the city, "It is too beautiful to be painted! It is untranslatable!"  Have you ever visited someplace and were overtaken by how beautiful or amazing it was when you first saw it?

3. While Monet's first exclamation was that Venice was too beautiful to paint, obviously, he took up the challenge. Monet kept a painting schedule in Venice dictated by the passage of the sun. He would work all day, moving from place to place on a schedule. Then he and his wife would enjoy a sunset gondola ride before retiring for the evening. This painting was done at sunset. Dusk (from the painting's title) is a synonym for sunset. What colors do you see? What colors do you think Monet would have used if he had painted this at sunrise / dawn?

4. Monet did not want to appear to be conforming to what other artists who came to Venice did. As such, he didn't go out in public, set up an easel and paint, like RenoirManet and others. Instead, most of his paintings during his time in Venice were views seen from his hotel! However, this painting appears to have been painted from the waterfront. Have you ever done something really important even though you were afraid? 

5. Claude Monet was the Father of the French Impressionist movement. Impressionism was radical in its time and rejected by many. Even the name, Impressionism, was originally coined as an insult! Today, a great many of our most famous paintings are from this movement and it gained favor during Monet's lifetime. Today, his paintings sell for millions of dollars and his home in Giverny is a popular tourist attraction. If you are a local reader of my blog, you can see a Monet-inspired garden at the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens. Be sure to take your art supplies and try to paint like Monet! 

Fine Art in Five Facts: Starry Night Over the Rhone by Vincent Van Gogh

Art & MusicHeatherAnne NorburyComment

Join me every Monday for Fine Art in Five Facts. I will be sharing art and including a few facts to help your child connect the art to its artist. Using art to teach history helps bring history to life! It is no longer just words on the page. It is colors, shapes and textures time-warped across the decades and centuries to connect the student to a particular moment in time. The most famous artist was just a human living in his or her environment at the time each artwork was created. Join me on this journey through art and history. I hope you and your child(ren) enjoy the trip and the view. 

By Vincent van Gogh - uQE3XORhSK37Dw at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain,

Starry Night Over the Rhone by Vincent Van Gogh

1. The Starry Night (1889) is Van Gogh's most famous painting but it wasn't his only starry night. This painting above, Starry Night Over the Rhone, was created 9 months earlier in September 1888. Which painting do you like better?

2. Many of Van Gogh's paintings featured the night sky over Arles, in the south of France, where he lived in The Yellow House from 1888-1889. This was one of Van Gogh's most prolific periods. What colors would you use to paint a picture of your house?  

3.  As famous as Van Gogh is now, he was considered a failure in his own lifetime. He suffered from mental illness and was supported by his brother, Theo Van Gogh, most of his life. It is important for families to support one another! Can you imagine if Theo hadn't supported him?  We may have had no Van Goghs! Go hug your family and tell them thank you. 

4. Can you see the constellation? In reality, Van Gogh would have had the "big bear" behind him from his painting vantage point. Why do you think he painted it in even though he didn't really see it when painting?

5. Color was very important to Van Gogh. He was intrigued by artificial lighting, new to this era. Van Gogh was particularly fascinated with the challenge of capturing the colors of the night sky in contrast to the artificial light. Artificial light wasn't the only innovation happening in 1888 Europe. The oldest surviving film (motion picture) in existence, Roundhay Garden Scene, was filmed in England by French inventor Louise Le Price. What's the earliest film you remember seeing? I bet it looked a lot different! 

Changes Coming...

Art & MusicHeatherAnne NorburyComment

I have been a bit quiet here lately as I am transitioning my blog and my Facebook page to align with my day-to-day life more. I teach art and music classes to children and I want my online presence to be more of an extension of that. So the blog and the Facebook page will be moving more toward art- and music-related themes, including lesson plans and craft-supply reviews so even if you aren't local to me, you can gain benefit here.

I'm still reading a lot! But I'm doing it more for pleasure now without reading everything with an eye to reviewing it. I will still be reviewing some books here and there - for friends and authors I already have a close relationship with (or new authors who want to reach out to me!), but I won't be doing as much promotional book reviewing.

Watch for more news ahead - including signups for summer mini-camps offered for the first time this year!