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Rembrandt Art Lessons for Children

Updated on August 6, 2013
Rembrandt's self-portrait dated 1767
Rembrandt's self-portrait dated 1767 | Source

Art is an important way to expose children to the beauty that is in the world. Art allows children to explore and create without the danger of getting into trouble. Art is also fun. It provides a nice break in between more serious classes like English and math.

I’ve divided each day’s lesson into three parts: artist history, art appreciation and art lesson. Depending on your needs you can pick through these lessons for a single day’s art class or you can stretch each lesson into a week of art instruction and have seven weeks of classes. However you choose to use them I hope they prove helpful.

Introduction to Rembrandt

Art History

My Reproductions provides a clear detailed history of Rembrandt’s life and art largely taken from Wikipedia, however it also includes a portrait gallery. For the first day’s lesson familiarize yourself with his life and either provide your student with a synopsis or simply read the article (depending on the age of your students). If you peruse the gallery together be aware that it includes several paintings that contain nudity. In order to keep your younger students engaged provide them with a picture of Rembrandt to color while they are listening to his history.

The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch, known as the ‘Night Watch’
The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch, known as the ‘Night Watch’ | Source

Art Appreciation

After looking at a few of Rembrandt’s paintings from the gallery you can focus on The Night Watch. This painting is one of the most famous paintings in the world. It is actually titled The Company of captain Frans Banning Cocq and lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out but had been coated with a dark varnish (that was not removed until the 1940s) which made the painting appear like a night scene and lead to the currently used name, The Night’s Watch. Rembrandt painted this piece when he was only 36, presumably on the commission of the civic militia guards.

The Night’s Watch painting is remarkable for three reasons. It size is phenomenal – even after being trimmed on all four sides in 1715. Secondly, Rembrandt’s effective use of light and shadow (chiaroscuro) – which can be seen in all his art, adds depth and meaning to his painting. Finally, the movement seen in this painting (more clearly before it was cut down in size), at a time when such portraits would have been stationary poses.

After a brief history of the painting, or as part of the discussion of the painting’s history, ask your students questions to spark their curiosity and to encourage them to think about the different aspects of the painting. The Chandler Unified School District has a lesson on Rembrandt’s Night Watch which includes several possible discussion questions. Try to discuss the shades of color in the painting as that will lead you into the art lesson.

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Art Lesson

The first art lesson is on value. According to Art History value is an element of art, which refers to the lightness or darkness of color. Value is most critical (and obvious) in black and white compositions in which the infinite variations of gray suggest planes and textures. Therefore, for this lesson the students will be using pencils to create a value scale. The video below will walk you through it.

Value Scale

Rembrandt’s Biography

Art History

Before today’s history lesson give each student an Artist Biography Sheet. (They can be found at Homeschooling with Index Cards.) As you read over Rembrandt’s history today have your students fill out the biography sheets. You can find a biography and chronology of Rembrandt’s life at Rembrandt Painting. Reading multiple perspectives will give you a clearer image of his life and the repetition will help your students retain the facts. At the bottom of the biography sheet is a section for images of Rembrandt’s work. If it is in your art budget you can provide fine art stickers for the students so that they have visuals of his work on hand or simply write in the names of several of his more renowned paintings. Rembrandt Painting lists his 50 most popular works of art.

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee | Source

Art Appreciation

The painting for this lesson is Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, a Biblically inspired painting. It was painted in 1633 when Rembrandt first moved to Amsterdam. The detail and color are characteristic of Rembrandt’s early style despite this being his only seascape. For more information about this painting visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

The Rembrandt Teaching Project has several lessons on Rembrandt and his artwork. For the lesson on Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee select the “Lesson Plans” link on the left. Then under “Teaching Guide Lesson Plans” select “Storm on the Sea of Galilee”. This will bring you to an image of the painting, a brief background and description of the painting as well as several discussion questions. The questions are geared toward and older audience but for younger students you could skip and/or modify the more advanced questions.

One final note before moving to the art lesson. If you decide to discuss the theft of the painting with your students the FBI stated in March 2013 that progress has been made although the paintings have not yet been recovered. Details of that progress are sketchy as it is an open investigation and the reward is still being offered.

Art Lesson

When your discussion of the painting has been brought to a close you can expand upon your art lesson from the previous lesson. The students should have created a value scale, which they will need for this lesson. Using the value scale your students will learn to create shading using that value scale. The video below will walk you through it.

Shading Using a Value Scale

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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The Geography of Rembrandt

Art History

You have already discussed the fact that Rembrandt painted during the Dutch Golden Age. Now bring out a map and focus on where he lived, where he painted and where he died. Discuss how location can affect art, which can lead into your art appreciation lesson.

Art Appreciation

The artwork for this lesson is an etching: View of Amsterdam. The Rembrandt Teaching Project has a background and description of the etching as well as an image of a print from the etching. (The Link is listed under lesson two’s art appreciation. Select the “Lesson Plans” link on the left. Then under “Teaching Guide Lesson Plans” select View of Amsterdam.) It also has a description of the etching process during Rembrandt’s time. And, of course, there are discussion questions to help you get your students talking about art.

Art Lesson

After discussing the geography in Rembrandt’s etching View of Amsterdam, you students can continue to expand their understanding of and abilities to use value in their own artwork. Building on the work they did previously your students will create a still life drawing of geometric shapes. The video below will walk them through the steps.

Creating a Still Life

Rembrandt’s Time

Art History

In previous lessons you’ve provided your students with an overview of Rembrandt’s life and you’ve discussed how geography might affect art. Now it is time to look at the world events that where happening around Rembrandt as he created his artwork. The Long Island University has a wonderful timeline that pairs Rembrandt’s major life events with simultaneously occurring world events. Pick several events and discuss how they might have impacted Rembrandt’s work. The world was expanding as new lands were discovered and colonized. Scientific discoveries were being made. And yet thousands were still dying of diseases like the Bubonic Plague. Did these events impact Rembrandt’s outlook? What he chose to paint? Or how he painted?

Art Appreciation

The painting for today’s art appreciation is another Biblically inspired painting: Daniel and Cyrus Before the Idol Bel . In the book of Daniel you can find the story of the king of Babylonia, King Cyrus, asking Daniel why he does not worship the idol Bel. In the story Daniel proves that it is not Bel eating the offerings but the priest. This painting shows that moment of confrontation. The king is shown illuminated in the center of the painting with Daniel appearing smaller and more humble and in the shadows a priest can be seen. This work is typical of the stories Rembrandt liked to depict – the moment of revelation or confrontation between the human and the divine. Below are several questions to spark discussion with your students. Or for older students go back to the Long Island University website that you visited for the timeline and choose “Lessons” from the list on the left. (You will also find an image of the painting here.) Then select the Daniel and Cyrus Before the Idol Bel – the second painting in the second row.

  • What do you notice about this painting?
  • Where does the light come from?
  • Where does it fall?
  • What colors are used?
  • Which faces can you see?
  • What do you think the people are thinking?

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Art Lesson

The art lesson for today will be focused on the concept of space. According to Art History space is an element of art which refers to the areas around, between and within a composition. Space can be either positive, that is light in color, or negative, that is dark. The simple lesson provided by Dick Blick Art Materials will give your students a better understanding of the concept of positive and negative space. For this lesson they will be using colored paper, scissors and glue or tape.

Review of Rembrandt

Art History

After four lessons on Rembrandt your students should be familiar with his life. Now would be an ideal time to review. The A & E Television Network has a detailed biography of Rembrandt’s life. Have your students review their artist biography sheet as you read the history filing in any missing details and correcting any errors. Don’t forget to go over the types of art Rembrandt created: portraits, biblical and classical scenes and etchings.

Christ Crucified Between the Two Thieves ("The Three Crosses")
Christ Crucified Between the Two Thieves ("The Three Crosses") | Source

Art Appreciation

Today’s art appreciation is an etching: Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves: The Three Crosses. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has detailed information about the etching as well as a full screen image of the print. The following questions will help inspire discussion among your students.

  • What is happening in this etching?
  • Who do you see?
  • Which thief is the one that asked for forgiveness? What makes you think so?
  • Do you notice the range of tones, the shadows and highlights?
  • Why do you think those people are lighter?
  • Why are the others darker?

Art Lesson

Today’s art lesson is again on positive and negative space. The video below will outline the lesson. However, the instructor gave this lesson before giving the value lessons. Therefore, you might want to adapt the lesson slightly to include the information your students learned during the earlier lessons.

Positive and Negative Space

Analyzing Rembrandt

Art History

BBC has a brief history of Rembrandt. It includes information about his romantic entanglements, if you are teaching younger students you may wish to reword or leave out this information. You’ll want to keep this history session brief to allow more time for the art appreciation portion of this lesson.

Art Appreciation

During today’s art appreciation your students will be analyzing what typifies a Rembrandt painting. Choose several painting that your students have yet to examine. The Louvre has several examples of Rembrandts work on their webpage from which you can choose. The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has a number of Rembrandt’s artwork listed. And of course you could visit Rembrandt Huis to find examples of his work. Choose three or more of Rembrandt’s paintings for analyses.

You will also need to choose an equal number of non-Rembrandt paintings. Depending upon your student’s age and ability you can make the paintings as similar or different as necessary. Then ask your students to pick out the Rembrandt paintings.

After they have made their selections let them know if they are correct. Then you can begin discussing what characteristics exemplify Rembrandt’s artwork. If your students are having trouble getting started, mention his use of light and shadows or his expressive faces.

Art Lesson

For today’s art lesson you students will not be using pencil and paper. Today they will be working with watercolor. However, they will again be exploring the concept of space – specifically negative space. By painting behind the trees in their artwork they will really grasp the idea of negative space. The video below will walk them through the exercise.

Paint Behind Exercise

Rembrandt’s Expressions

Art History

Technological Solutions, Inc. Ducksters has a kid’s biography of Rembrandt, which should make the final history lesson fun. Pay particular attention to the information about portraits because today’s art appreciation and art lesson will be on facial expressions.

The Abduction of Europa
The Abduction of Europa | Source

Art Appreciation

The J. Paul Getty Trust has a lesson on Rembrandt’s painting: The Abduction of Europa. The lesson calls for you to compare Rembrandt’s version of the myth with Ovid’s. My daughters had heard the Ravenwood version so we compared that version of the myth with Rembrandt’s. If your students have a version they are already familiar with use that version. Also as you look painting remember to focus on the expressions, that will lead you into the art lesson for the day.

Art Lesson

Today’s lesson can be found at Getting to Look at the fourth lesson: Expressive Faces. According to Wikipedia’s article about portrait painting the artist Gordon C. Aymar states, "the eyes are the place one looks for the most complete, reliable, and pertinent information" about the subject. And the eyebrows can register, "almost single-handedly, wonder, pity, fright, pain, cynicism, concentration, wistfulness, displeasure, and expectation, in infinite variations and combinations." Share this information with your students about what to look at when creating various expressions.

Your students have used pencils and watercolors during their art lessons so far. This lesson allows you more freedom to choose. If you are unsure what medium to use for this class the Deep Space Sparkle webpage has an article about the various medium choices. Or if your students have a preferred medium just use that one.

Enjoy learning about a master artist with your students. Explore art through his lens. Expand your art abilities. Help your students create their own masterpieces. Have fun with art.


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    • Joy M profile imageAUTHOR

      Joy M 

      7 years ago from Sumner, Washington

      I agree art is important for children's development.

      Glad you enjoyed it.

    • peterstreep profile image


      7 years ago

      Great art class, children will love it no daubt. Art is so important for the development of a child ; creativity, fantasy, take initiatives etc.

      Thanks for the great hub


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