Grades/Level: Middle School (6–8)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts, History–Social Science
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
4 class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff


Curriculum Home
Lesson Plans
Image Bank
Neoclassicism and the Enlightenment Overview
Timeline: Neoclassicism and the Enlightenment
California and National Standards Charts

Lesson Overview

Students will understand the use of personification as a way of expressing ideals. Students will transfer this understanding to the present by creating an allegorical depiction of a contemporary ideal or value inspired by precedents in classical Greece and the Neoclassical period.

Learning Objectives

• Students will be able to discuss the cultural values reflected in classical and Neoclassical art and make connections between the two art forms.
• Students will write labels that clearly support the concepts that informed their art-making process.
• Students will use appropriate vocabulary when discussing the meaning and content of works of art.


• Image of Panathenaic Amphora with Lid by Nikodemos, Greek
• Image of Allegorical Portrait of the van Risamburgh Family by Joseph Chinard
• Worksheet: "Quotations by Aristotle and Thomas Jefferson"
• Overhead projector
• Mythological story about the Roman goddess Minerva. You can easily find her story on the Internet by searching her name in any search engine.
• Art supplies as determined by the teacher, such as pencils, colored pencils, markers, pictures cut out of magazines, glue, paint, etc.

Lesson Steps

1. Divide students into pairs.

2. Give each pair a copy of the "Quotations by Aristotle and Thomas Jefferson" worksheet, so the students may work together to answer the questions.

3. Engage class in discussion using the questions on the worksheet as talking points.

4. Introduce the students to the basic concepts about the Enlightenment and its impact on the visual arts, using the information in Neoclassicism and the Enlightenment Overview. The term "Enlightenment" suggests that it was a time when people were "enlightened" by reason and a passion for discovering order in the world around them. By using classical philosophy and art forms as models and guides, Neoclassical art was characterized by its sense of order, logic, and clarity. Duty to a higher cause, such as one's country or its ruler, as well as a sense of decorum, appropriateness, and morality were emphasized.

5. Show students an image of the Panathenaic amphora and question them about the object. You may use the Questions for Teaching found in the Image Bank for this object. Students should make assumptions based on visual clues and attributes such as the helmet, shield, spear, and head of Medusa.

6. Engage students in discussion, using the following questions:
• What do you think the object is made of?
• What was this object used for?
• For what occasion do you think it was made?
• Who are the figures? How can you tell? What are their attributes? (An attribute is an object closely associated with or belonging to a specific person, thing, or office. For example, a scepter is an attribute of power; a crown, an attribute for a king.)
• What do they personify or symbolize?
• How does this object relate to Neoclassicism?
Reinforce their answers using the object information provided.

7. Show students an image of the Chinard sculpture. Use the questions above and the Questions for Teaching about this object from the Image Bank to discuss about this artwork. Reinforce student answers using the object information provided.

8. As a class, compare the two artworks. Discuss elements that are similar. Talk about differences in the depiction of the Minerva figure such as pose and what it suggests to the viewer and iconography (symbols associated with a subject), such as the owl included in the sculpture as a symbol of wisdom. Discuss the significance of other figures and elements.

9. Read a myth about Minerva to gain a better understanding of who the goddess is and what she represents. Question students about the message conveyed in the family portrait, including family members' roles and family dynamic. Ask students to compare the mother's role to that of Minerva. Using the Information in Neoclassicism and the Enlightenment Overview, discuss the larger context of this portrait, made during the civil unrest that followed the French Revolution, and how the inclusion of Minerva enhances the interpretation of this object.

10. Have the class come up with a core value, concept, or force in contemporary culture (such as friendship, capitalism, hip-hop, celebrity, etc.) and take suggestions about how it would be personified (gender, attributes, colors, etc.). After the class gains an understanding of the concept of this exercise, have each student pick something to personify.

11. Have students create a depiction of a personification of a core value or concept in contemporary culture, using available art supplies, such as markers, magazine pictures, etc.

12. On a separate sheet of paper, students should write a label for their work of art like one they would see in a museum. The label should include: title, artist's name and nationality, date, a 100-word (1–2 paragraph) explanation of why they chose to personify a certain concept, and a description of the different elements that serve as attributes of this concept.

13. Have students participate in a museum gallery walk. Display the works of art around the classroom and have students look at and read each other's work. Discuss with the class how the personifications reflect their experiences and the larger context of our contemporary culture.

Risamburgh Family / Chinard
Allegorical Portrait of the van Risamburgh Family, Joseph Chinard, 1790


Observation of student discussion for inclusion of the following:
• Identification and description of Neoclassical style.
• How time, place, and cultural influence are reflected in selected works of art.
• The relationship between Neoclassical art and Greek and Roman mythology.

Evaluation of students' visual and written assignment for:
• Articulation of their chosen theme using appropriate personification and attributes.

Evaluation of students' visual and written assignment for:
• Articulation of their chosen theme using appropriate personification and attributes.

Students should be able to identify in Allegorical Portrait of the van Risamburgh Family:
• Neoclassical characteristics (moralizing theme; application of ancient art form to contemporary life in attributes of Minerva).
• Relationship of work to antiquity, both similarities (iconography) and differences (medium, subjugation of Minerva for middle-class subject matter).
• Relationship of work to Enlightenment philosophy (nobility of the middle class, strength of the individual, duty to family and country).

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 6–8

Production and Distribution of Writing
4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

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.

History—Social Science Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 7

7.11 Students analyze political and economic change in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries (the Age of Exploration, the Enlightenment, and the Age of Reason).
7.11.4 Explain how the main ideas of the Enlightenment can be traced back to such movements as the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution and to the Greeks, Romans, and Christianity.

Grade 8
8.1.1 Describe the relationship between the moral and political ideas of the Great Awakening and the development of revolutionary fervor.

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 7
Historical and Cultural Context
3.1 Research and describe how art reflects cultural values in various traditions throughout the world.

Grade 8
Artistic Perception
1.1 Use artistic terms when describing the intent and content of works of art.

English–Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 7
Writing Strategies
1.1 Create an organizational structure that balances all aspects of the composition and uses effective transitions between sentences to unify important ideas.
1.2 Support all statements and claims with anecdotes, descriptions, facts and statistics, and specific examples.
1.4 Identify topics; ask and evaluate questions; and develop ideas leading to inquiry, investigation, and research.
1.7 Revise writing to improve organization and word choice after checking the logic of the ideas and the precision of the vocabulary.

Grade 8
Writing Strategies
1.1 Create compositions that establish a controlling impression, have a coherent thesis, and end with a clear and well-supported conclusion.
1.2 Establish coherence within and among paragraphs through effective transitions, parallel structures, and similar writing techniques.
1.3 Support theses or conclusions with analogies, paraphrases, quotations, opinions from authorities, comparisons, and similar devices.
1.5 Achieve an effective balance between researched information and original ideas.
1.6 Revise writing for word choice; appropriate organization; consistent point of view; and transitions between paragraphs, passages, and ideas.

National Standards for Social Sciences—U.S. History

Grades 5–12
Revolution and the New Nation
Understands the institutions and practices of government created during the Revolution and how they were revised between 1787 and 1815 to create the foundation of the American political system based on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Grades 5–12
World History
Era 7: An Age of Revolutions, 1750–1914
Students should understand the causes and consequences of political revolutions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

National Standards for Visual Arts

Grades 5–8
Using Knowledge of Structures and Functions
Students employ organizational structures and analyze what makes them effective or not effective in the communication of ideas.

Understanding the Visual Arts in Relation to History and Cultures
Students analyze, describe, and demonstrate how factors of time and place (such as climate, resources, ideas, and technology) influence visual characteristics that give meaning and value to a work of art.

Reflecting Upon and Assessing the Characteristics and Merits of Their Work and the Work of Others
Students compare multiple purposes for creating works of art. Students analyze contemporary and historic meanings in specific artworks through cultural and aesthetic inquiry.

Making Connections between Visual Arts and Other Disciplines
Students compare the characteristics of works in two or more art forms that share similar subject matter, historical periods, or cultural context. Students describe ways in which the principles and subject matter of other disciplines taught in the school are interrelated with the visual arts.

National Standards for English Language Arts

Grades K–12

Understanding the Human Experience
Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.

Communication Skills
Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

Communication Strategies
Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.