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Education Home Search Lesson Plans All Curricula Looking at Illuminated Manuscripts: Lessons and Ideas for Discussion Lesson Plans Looking at Illuminated Manuscripts: A Book of Modern Astronomy
Looking at Illuminated Manuscripts: A Book of Modern Astronomy

Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, Science
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Three to four class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

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About Illuminated Manuscripts
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Lesson Overview

Students will examine a medieval manuscript on astronomy and create their own books based on modern discoveries in astronomy.

Learning Objectives

Students should be able to:
• examine and discuss a page from an illuminated manuscript.
• compare the understanding of astronomy in the Middle Ages to today.
• discuss and research modern discoveries in astronomy.
• create their own manuscript pages based on a modern discovery in the field of astronomy.


• Image of Alchandreus Presents His Text to a King
• Heavy drawing paper, drawing pencils, oil pastels, gold and silver foil, glue

Lesson Steps

1. Discuss the image Alchandreus Presents His Text to a King using the following questions.
This image is the frontispiece of a book covering such diverse topics as the movement of the planets, distances between stars, signs of the zodiac, the nature of the moon, and the art of reading minds.
• What tools do you see in the image that aid in the study of astronomy? (The astrolabe)
• Examine the text area of the page. What other evidence can you find on this page that links it to the topics mentioned above? (The names of a few planets and some of the signs of the zodiac are mentioned in blue and red pigments throughout the text.)
• Discuss the differences between modern astronomy and the topics covered in Alchandreus's text. The art of reading minds was a section of the texts in the Book of the Philosopher Alchandreus. Is mind reading still connected to astronomy today?
• Astrology originally professed to be a science that could forecast earthly events based on the movements of the celestial bodies. Is astrology considered a science today?

2. As a group, generate ideas by discussing modern discoveries in astronomy. These could include things such as black holes; the recent Mars Rover expeditions; recent inventions that aid in the study of astronomy, such as the Hubble Telescope; or the discovery of Sedna, a possible 10th planet/planetoid in our solar system.

3. After the discussion, have students choose a subject of modern astronomy that they would like to write and create an illuminated image about. Students will then research information about their subjects and write a brief paragraph.

4. Once their writing is ready, the students will each create a manuscript page with an illumination. They will be responsibile for the layout of the page and where to set the text and illumination. Students should rule the lines before beginning to write out their research on their astronomical discovery. Have the students use oil pastels to create their illumination, and gold or silver foil to add details to their work.

5. Finally, have each student present to the class his or her research and findings on modern astronomy. Bring the pages together for a class critique and discuss successful compositions as a class. Fifth-grade students should be able to discuss their artwork using principles of design such as balance, unity, repetition, contrast, etc.

Alchandreus / Virgil Master
Alchandreus Presents His Work to a King, Virgil Master, about 1405


Students will be assessed on their research and writing on a subject of modern astonomy, their completion of an illuminated manuscript page, and their particpation in class critique.


While the astrolabe was a Greek invention, it was greatly improved upon by Arabic astronomers. What is an astrolabe used for? Why would it be important for Arabic scholars to perfect instruments such as the astrolabe? Have students research the origins and functions of the astrolabe and other scientific contributions from the Islamic world. (The most important reason for scientific innovation in the Arabic world was the influence of the religion Islam. With a scientific instrument like the astrolabe, one could find out the time of day and exact directions, and thus determine the correct time and direction for prayer toward Mecca.)

Standards Addressed

Science Content Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 3

4. Objects in the sky move in regular and predictable patterns. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know the patterns of stars stay the same, although they appear to move across the sky nightly, and different stars can be seen in different seasons.
b. Students know the way in which the Moon?s appearance changes during the four week lunar cycle.
d. Students know that Earth is one of several planets that orbit the Sun and that the Moon orbits Earth.
e. Students know the position of the Sun in the sky changes during the course of the day and from season to season.

Grade 5
5. The solar system consists of planets and other bodies that orbit the Sun in predictable paths. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know the Sun, an average star, is the central and largest body in the solar system and is composed primarily of hydrogen and helium.
b. Students know the solar system includes the planet Earth, the Moon, the Sun, eight other planets and their satellites, and smaller objects, such as asteroids and comets.
c. Students know the path of a planet around the Sun is due to the gravitational attraction between the Sun and the planet.

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 3

Make Informed Judgments
4.2 Identify successful and less successful compositional and expressive qualities of their own works of art and describe what might be done to improve them.
4.3 Select an artist's work and, using appropriate vocabulary of art, explain its successful compositional and communicative qualities.

5.0 Connections, Relationships, Applications
Students apply what they learned in the visual arts across subject areas.

Grade 5
Communication and Expression Through Original Works of Art
2.5 Assemble a found object sculpture (as assemblage) or a mixed media two-dimensional composition that reflects unity and harmony and communicates a theme.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
Derive Meaning
4.1 Identify how selected principles of design are used in a work of art and how they affect personal responses to and evaluation of the work of art.

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