Grades/Level: High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts, History–Social Science
Time Required: 2–Part Lesson
Two 90-minute class periods
Author: Vicki Barkley, High School Teacher
South Gate High School, Los Angeles Unified School District

For the Classroom

Curriculum Home
Lesson Plans

Lesson Overview

Students will learn about the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter Reformation as related events. They will analyze works by the artists Rubens and Rembrandt, and use the art works to illustrate the divergent beliefs and philosophies of the two movements.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• analyze works of two major northern Baroque artists.
• explain how the religious beliefs of the artist shaped the formal aspects of each work.
• discuss the impact of the Reformation and Counter Reformation on art and culture of Northern Europe.


• Reproduction of The Entombment by Peter Paul Rubens
• Reproduction of The Deposition by Follower of Rogier van der Weyden
• Reproduction of Daniel and Cyrus before the Idol Bel by Rembrandt van Rijn
95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences by Martin Luther
Spiritual Exercises by Ignatius of Loyola
Council of Trent excerpts
• Drawing paper
• Pencils

Lesson Steps

1. Show students the reproduction of The Entombment by Rubens. Ask them to share their impressions of the painting. Show students the reproduction of The Deposition.

2. Go over the definitions of the Renaissance and Baroque artistic movements, and how these movements were manifested in Northern European art. (Background information on these movements can be found by searching these terms on Wikipedia or the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Timeline of Art History.) Have students compare the two artworks to determine differences between the two movements as evidenced in these two paintings. Students should discuss possible reasons for the differences.

3. Pass out paper and pencils. Have students do a quick-write on both paintings based on the conclusions reached in the class discussion.

4. Ask students to read Luther's 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences in class in groups of four. Within their groups, have students discuss the reforms that Luther proposed.

5. Show the reproduction of Rembrandt's Daniel and Cyrus before the Idol Bel. Have students share their observations of the painting. Provide students with the background information about the painting, and share the story of Daniel and Cyrus. Ask students to think about and make connections between this painting and Luther's 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.

6. Provide students with primary sources, such the Spiritual Exercises by Ignatius of Loyola and excerpts from the Council of Trent. Have students do further research on the Reformation and Counter Reformation. Have the groups use a graphic organizer, such as a T chart, to help them understand how Protestantism and Catholicism differed after the Reformation.

7. Have students work together in their groups to draw parallels between each painting and the beliefs of each artist. Ask students to consider the time and place in which the artist lived. Ask them to consider how different institutions and practices may have influenced each artist.

8. In their groups, have students discuss a current institution that may be in need of reform. Have them generate lists and come to a group consensus on what to reform.

9. Within the four-person groups, have students write three to five paragraphs—two students writing to defend the institution as it exists and two students writing to advocate for its reform.

10. Have students brainstorm ideas about symbols or images that they can use to defend the institution as it exists or to advocate for its reform. Then have each student make a series of drawings reflecting his or her position, and then choose one drawing to share with the class.

11. Have a discussion to see if the class can determine which position is represented by each drawing.

The Entombment / Rubens
The Entombment, Peter Paul Rubens, 1612


Students will be assessed on participation in group and class discussions and their understanding of the Reformation and Counter Reformation. Students will also be assessed on their writings and drawings of an institution that they support as it exists or that they wish to reform.

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Languge Arts

Grades 9–12

Key Ideas and Details
1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Text Types and Purposes
1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge
7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Comprehension and Collaboration
1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grades 9–12 Proficient
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.1 Identify and use the principles of design to discuss, analyze, and write about visual aspects in the environment and in works of art, including their own.

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context
3.1 Identify similarities and differences in the purposes of art created in selected cultures.

History–Social Science Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grades 9–12
Chronological and Spatial Thinking
1. Students compare the present with the past, evaluating the consequences of past events and decisions and determining the lessons that were learned.

Historical Research, Evidence, and Point of View
2. Students identify bias and prejudice in historical interpretations.

Historical Interpretation
3. Students interpret past events and issues within the context in which an event unfolded rather than solely in terms of present-day norms and values.