Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, Science
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
1–3 class periods (plus one week for submerging metal in water)
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff


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Lesson Overview

Students study an object from antiquity that was found in the sea off the coast of Italy in order to understand how conservators remove and prevent corrosion on bronze statues. They derive meaning from analyzing the pose of the statue. Based on what they observe in the sculpture and what they read about the statue, students speculate about how the sculpture was lost at sea.

Learning Objectives

Students will:
• Observe and understand the changes that occur to metals when submerged in water.
• Analyze the pose of an ancient Greek sculpture.


• Image of the Victorious Youth
• Copies for students of Background Information about the Victorious Youth
• Image of the Victorious Youth before conservation (follow link below)
• Pennies
• Periodic Table
• Journal or bound paper
• Clear plastic containers
• Water
• Teaspoons
• Salt

Lesson Steps

1. Divide the class into groups of three or four. Hand out a penny to each group. Explain that the metal in a penny is an alloy of zinc and copper. Have the class identify these two metals on a periodic table. Have students draw their pennies and then answer the following questions in their journals, using adjectives to describe characteristics.
• What color is the coin?
• Is it shiny or dull?
• How would you describe the texture of the surface?
• Is the metal hard or soft?

2. Have students place the pennies in clear plastic containers, cover them with water, and then add a few teaspoons of salt to the water. Allow the coins to soak for a week. Then have groups reexamine their coins. They should draw the pennies a second time and answer the questions above again in their journals. Each group should compare their two drawings and their observations. What has changed? What has stayed the same?

3. Display the pre-conservation view of the Victorious Youth. Ask groups to discuss what they see in the image and to make guesses about what they may be looking at. Then explain to students that they are looking at an ancient Greek statue that was in the ocean for over two thousand years. Tell students that the statue is made of bronze. Explain to the class that over time the metal in their pennies would start to look like that of this statue, because the metal in the pennies would have a similar reaction to salt water. Explain that the statue has been affected by “bronze disease,” which occurs when chlorides and oxygen combine with metal in a damp environment. The disease takes the form of a sudden outbreak of small patches of corrosion and is distinguished by rough, light-green spots. In this case, the damp environment was the ocean, and the chlorides and oxygen came from the salt water. Mineral deposits from the water and incrustations left by corals and other sea animals caused the rough layer on the surface.

4. Display the post-conservation view of the Victorious Youth. Explain that scientists and conservators were able to stop the corrosion and remove the incrustations by cleaning the object. They used various tools and treatments. Over a three-month period, conservators scraped off the incrustations using mechanical tools to reveal the original surface. They also used several other methods to clean the object, such as extensive washing of the bronze with chemicals that neutralized the corrosion. Finally, they placed the statue in a relatively low-humidity environment. As a result, we are now able to get a better sense of what the object looked like originally.

5. Give students time to look at the sculpture and then ask them for their initial observations. Lead a discussion about the work using the following questions:
• What can you tell about the sculpture now that the incrustations have been removed?
• What do you notice about the pose of the figure?
• What is this person doing?
• What other details do you notice?

6. Share background information about the work of art. Based on the information provided, ask students to make up a story about how the sculpture might have been lost at sea.

Victorious Youth / Unknown
Victorious Youth, Greek, 300–100 B.C.

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 3–5

3.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
3.6 Speak in complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation in order to provide requested detail or clarification. (See grade 3 Language standards 1 and 3 for specific expectations.)
4.3 Identify the reasons and evidence a speaker or media source provides to support particular points.
4.6 Differentiate between contexts that call for formal English (e.g., presenting ideas) and situations where informal discourse is appropriate (e.g., small-group discussion); use formal English when appropriate to task and situation. (See grade 4 Language standards 1 and 3 for specific expectations.)
5.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
5.3 Summarize the points a speaker or media source makes and explain how each claim is supported by reasons and evidence, and identify and analyze any logical fallacies.

For more national and California state standards for this curriculum, refer to the charts found in the links at the top right of this page.