Featured Work of Art
Narbonne Arch, ca. 1150–75
40 x 74 in. (101.6 x 188.0 cm)
John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1922 (22.58.1)
Collection Area: European Art, Medieval (The Cloisters)
Subject Areas: Visual Arts, English Language Arts
Grades: Elementary School
Topic/Theme: Animals in Art
Students will be able to
- recognize and interpret the use of animals as symbols in medieval art;
- synthesize the features of several animals into a composite creature with special powers drawn from its attributes; and
- communicate the special qualities of their figure through writing.
Visual Arts – Understanding and Applying Media, Techniques, and Processes
Visual Arts – Choosing and Evaluating a Range of Subject Matter, Symbols, and Ideas
Visual Arts – Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures
Visual Arts – Making Connections Between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines
English Language Arts – Communication Skills
English Language Arts – Communication Strategies
English Language Arts – Applying Knowledge
English Language Arts – Applying Language Skills
Questions for Viewing
- Take a close look at one of the creatures. What do you notice?
- Why might an artist choose to combine parts of many different animals?
- What might these different animals symbolize?
- Why might someone have wanted to decorate their doorway with creatures like these?
- Where might we see animals like these today?
- What kind of creatures would you choose to decorate your own space? Why would you choose those creatures?
Create a short list of animals and jot down some of their key features (e.g. elephant: big ears, long nose, large size). Consider the special qualities each feature offers. With this list in mind, fold a sheet of paper into thirds and draw the head of an animal in the top section. Pass the paper to your neighbor, who will draw a body in the center section and then hand the paper to a third person, who will finish with the feet or tail. As you work, fold the paper back so each section is completed without looking at the others. Open up the finished drawing and consider the special powers these features suggest. Write a description of your beast or create a story exploring how they use their talents. See if your classmates can match each of the written pieces with the creature that inspired them.
Materials: Drawing paper, pencils, crayons or markers
Activity Setting: Classroom or Museum
Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. "Animals in Medieval Art." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2001)
Hassig, Debra, ed. The Mark of the Beast: The Medieval Bestiary in Art, Life, and Literature. New York: Garland, 1999.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Unicorn Tapestries." New York: The Metropolitan Museum of art, [n.d.] Interactive online feature.
"Narbonne Arch [French] (22.58.1)." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2006)
Norris, Michael. Medieval Art: A Resource for Educators. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005. Download the resource.
Pre-Visit Guide for Teachers: The Art of Medieval Europe (PDF)
Dragon Passant, after 1200
31.32.2a: 89 x 132 in. (226.1 x 335.3 cm); 31.38.2b: 48 x 132 in. (121.9 x 335.3 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 1931 (31.38.2a, b)
The Unicorn in Captivity, 1495–1505
Wool warp with wool, silk, silver, and gilt wefts
144 7/8 x 99 in. (368 x 251.5 cm)
Gift of John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1937 (37.80.6)
Lion Aquamanile, ca. 1400
13 1/8 x 13 3/8 x 4 3/4 in. (33.3 x 34 x 12.1 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 1994 (1994.244)
Author: Adapted from Medieval Art: A Resource for Educators
Affiliation: The Metropolitan Museum of Art