Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
4 class periods
Author: Renee Aguirre, Fourth Grade Teacher
Newcastle Elementary, Los Angeles Unified School District


Curriculum Home
Lesson Plans

Lesson Overview

Students will view artwork in manuscripts pages depicting insects, animals, plants, flowers, and ornate writing, such as those found in the Mira calligraphiae monumenta in the Getty Museum. They will create a work of art that illustrates a figurative saying with a drawing of flora and/or fauna, and text written in ornate script.

Learning Objectives

Students should be able to:
• discuss how artists use shape and form to create realistic details in artworks that depict the natural world.
• use figurative language, such as simile, metaphor, hyperbole, and personification, orally and in writing.
• use shape and form to create a decorated image of a natural object and to illustrate a common figurative saying about that object.
• develop and use their own ornate script based on their observations of a medieval manuscript.


• Exhibition content: Picturing the Natural World
• Images from Joris Hoefnagel's Mira calligraphiae monumenta, as well as other illuminated manuscript pages, listed below
• Plain paper and parchment paper, cut to the same size
• Rulers
• Colored pencils and markers
• Gold and/or silver metallic markers
• Thin, fine-tipped black pens
• Books:
Nature Illuminated: Flora and Fauna from the Court of Emperor Rudolf II (J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997)

Calligraphy Made Easy by Margaret Shepherd (Perigree Trade Publishing, 1989)

There's a Frog in my Throat!: 440 Animal Sayings a Little Bird Told Me by Loreen Leedy and Pat Street (Holiday House, 2003)

Who Let the Cat Out of the Bag? by 4th Grade Students at Newcastle Ave Elementary (Scholastic, 2002)

Lesson Steps

1. Using the information from the Getty Museum's exhibition, Picturing the Natural World give the class background information about the growing interest of European artists in the natural world between 1450 and 1800.

2. Display images from Hoefnagel's Mira calligraphiae monumenta in the classroom. Encourage the students to look closely at details of the flora and fauna and calligraphy in the images. Ask the class the following questions to elicit a discussion:
• What details of the insects, animals, and flowers do you see?
• What shapes did the artist use to create the different plants and animals?
• The space between objects is known as negative space and it creates negative shapes. Where do you see negative shapes and space?
• Notice how the artist makes the shapes of the flora and fauna look like three-dimensional forms. How does the artist use color and shading to make the flat shapes look like three-dimensional forms?
• What do you think the purpose of the calligraphy is on the page? What do you think the text describes?
• How are the text and the image on the page related to one another?

3. Tell students they will be creating a work of art similar to pages from Hoefnagel's manuscript. Their artworks should include the following:
• A short, known figurative saying that refers to an animal, such as "butterflies in my stomach" or "multiplying like rabbits," written in decorative script.
• Underneath the figurative saying, write an explanation or rephrasing of what the figurative saying means and identify its use of language (is it a simile, metaphor, hyperbole, or personification?).
• Decorative drawings of the plants, flowers and/or animals included in the saying. Drawings should focus on transforming shapes into form and using negative and positive space to fill the page.

4. Students should pick a saying that includes an animal, and which they already know. They can also use the books There's a Frog in My Throat or Who Let the Cat Out of the Bag? for help finding a saying. Explain to students that even if their sayings' meanings are found in the books, they should not copy them, but use them as aids to write their own explanations of a) what the saying means and b) how they came to that conclusion. (Sample questions: How do you know the meaning of the saying? Did you use prior knowledge? Did what you know about the animal or plant in the saying help you figure out what the saying means?)

5. Display the illuminated manuscript pages from the Getty Museum's collection in the classroom to show students how artists often decorate and enlarge the first letter of the text on a page.

6. Using pencil, students should write their saying down in the top third of a piece of practice paper. Have them start with a larger and more ornate letter. Encourage students to make their writing as closely as possible to calligraphy by practicing good consistent penmanship and by adding decorative elements to letters. They can get ideas for forming their letters from pages in Hoefnagel's Mira calligraphiae monumenta, or in any calligraphy book, such as Calligraphy Made Easy.

7. Students will sketch out the rest of their composition on the practice paper with pencil. They may decorate the rest of the page with pictures of the animal/s or flora mentioned in the saying and can also include other plants and flowers. As students work, reinforce their use of positive and negative shapes and space as well as their use of light, shading, and color to create the illusion of three-dimensional forms.

8. After students have practiced their writing and sketches, have them copy their composition onto the parchment paper using rulers to lay out the text, and colored pencils, pens, and markers to finish their artwork.

9. After the pages are complete, students should present their artwork to the class. Each student should orally discuss the figurative saying they illustrated by explaining what it means and what type of language it uses. They should also explain how they used negative and positive space and shapes in their composition and discuss how they created the illusion of three-dimensional form. Questions from peers may follow.

Orange, Mollusk / Hoefnagel
Sour Orange, Terrestrial Mollusk, and Larkspur,
Joris Hoefnagel
1561–1562 and about 1591–1596

Standards Addressed

Visual Arts Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 4

Artistic Perception
1.2 Describe how negative shapes/forms and positive shapes/forms are used in a chosen work of art.
1.5 Describe and analyze the elements of art (color, shape/form, line, texture, space and value), emphasizing form, as they are used in works of art and found in the environment.

Creative Expression
2.1 Use shading (value) to transform a two-dimensional shape into what appears to be a three-dimensional form (e.g., circle to sphere).
2.6 Use the interaction between positive and negative space expressively in a work of art.

Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Describe how using the language of the visual arts helps to clarify personal responses to works of art.

Language Arts Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 4

Literary Response and Analysis
3.5 Define figurative language (e.g., simile, metaphor, hyperbole, personification) and identify its use in literary works.

Writing Applications
1.4 Write fluidly and legibly in cursive or joined italic.

"This was a fun lesson to teach because students will be amazed with the calligraphy. They needed a lot of guidance picking and writing about their own animal saying. It helps to have a sample of what you want. It is also crucial to explain how you picked the saying and used prior and common knowledge to determine its meaning. I let my students know that, even if their meaning is not exactly correct, if they made a compelling case of how they figured it out, it was ok. Next time, Ill create an extension to tie in with our science and English Language Development curriculum and standards."
—Renee Aguirre