Author: Janeen Ryan, IS 125 Queens

Lesson Preview This lesson will connect the visual arts and storytelling through critical analysis of the artist Rembrandt van Rijn’s finest works.


National Standards for the Arts

New York State Learning Standards for the Arts

New York City Performance Standards for English Language Arts


Grades Upper Elementary and Intermediate Levels

Subject Language Arts, Visual Arts, Social Studies

Materials examples of Rembrandt’s Self-Portraits, graphic organizer, brainstorming sheet, student journals



1. Display examples of Rembrandt’s self-portraits. Construct a "K-W-LChart" based upon what students already know, and what they want to know about his life and times. Follow this with a reading of Rembrandt’s biography highlighting some of the following "biofacts:"

1606- Born in Leiden, Holland, July 15
1620- Trained at age 14 in an artist’s studio where he acquires basics of perspective and drawing
1624- opens a studio with painter Jan Lievens in Leiden
1631- moves to Amsterdam and meets Saskia, daughter of a well-known magistrate, when he resides at an art dealer’s house
1632 on- paints commissioned portraits and many biblical scenes where he develops his sense of chiaroscuro
1634- marries Saskia
1641- his son, Titus, is born

2. Continue eliciting facts from students to add to the timeline to help them get to know Rembrandt, the man. Following this, display Aristotle with the Bust of Homer. Allow students to freewrite in their journals describing what they see in this painting&endash;emotions, color, figures, chiaroscuro, etc.


What could be the story behind this painting? Who is the bust of?

What is the relationship between the man in rich clothing and the bust?

List important ideas and information generated by the class using a graphic organizer.

3. Have students write an introduction to a story about this painting as third person narrators.

4. Follow this by encouraging the students to select one painting from a collection of reprints made available in class and carefully analyze it. They should use the model from the previous lesson and generate their first impressions in their journals.

Brainstorm for ideas in the students’ narratives. The "Brainstorming Sheet" includes essential parts of a story to guide students into writing drafts for their narratives. This sheet can include:

Character- names, titles, personality traits
Setting- time and place
Conflict- problem
Main events in plot
Turning point


5. Have students write first drafts of their narratives. Revise stories using task and rubric sheets as a checklist. Peer edit in class. Add dialogue to give life to the stories.




Choose another famous painter known for self-portraits, such as Vincent van Gogh and compare and contrast them with those of Rembrandt.







Task: After close examination of one of Rembrandt’s works, write a narrative account that tells the story behind the painting. Become the author of a fictional tale that brings the characters to life. Step back in time to Rembrandt’s era, the 1600s, and imagine what life was actually like for the subjects in the work. Use your brainstorming sheet to jot down ideas while you examine the painting and use your creativity to invent a story to go along with a painting from one of the world’s most famous artists.

In your first written draft, include the important story parts:


1. Genre: What type of genre is your story going to fit into? You have a choice. Make it something you are comfortable in writing.
2. Narration: Do you want to be a character in a tale? 1st person Do you want to be telling the tale from the outside looking in? 3rd person
3. Characters: Full names and descriptions (ages, jobs, family, personality, etc.)
4. Dialogue: If your characters speak, this will make your story more realistic. Use the
correct form --with quotation marks&endash;indent for each new speaker.
5. Setting: Time (year, season, date) and place (town, country, streets)
6. Conflict: What problems do your characters go through?
7. Plot: What are the main events that happen in the lives of your characters that
lead up to the scene of the painting? Try some plot twists and unexpected
8. Turning Point: Is there an event that changes the life of your character(s)?
9. Resolution: How is the problem solved? What type of ending do you want for
your story? Stay away from the "happily ever after" ending.


Remember, you are in control of your story. As an author, you decide what goes in and what stays out. Take a chance and be daring. Try to invent an original introduction that really grabs the reader’s attention. Develop a plot that keeps your reader’s interest by fully describing what the characters are going through. Take your reader inside the life of the painting. If you have fun on the journey, so will your readers.

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