Art History for Kids

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Early man eventually moved away from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to settle along the river Nile. These men and women were called Egyptians and like early cave men and the Sumerians, they were possibly even more interested in telling their stories through art. Of all of the ancient civilizations, the Egyptians were definitely the most prolific.

The Pre-Dynastic Period

What exactly is a pre-dynasty period? Well, it’s the years that describe the time before their were Eyptian Pharoahs and Queens. For every Pharoah that lived, the time that they ruled was considered a dynasty. So, before they had Pharoahs, that time was called pre (meaning: before) dynasty (meaning: period of Pharoah’s power). Make sense?

The Geography of Egypt

During this time, Egypt was divided into two parts: Upper Egypt (the southern part) and Lower Egypt (the northern part). Ancient Egypt didn’t truly become the power it is known today until the two parts joined together to become the Egyptian kingdom.

The First Dynasty: King Narmer

If you take a look at the art from King Narmer’s reign, you’ll see some interesting similarities between the art of his time and the Sumerians. This slate tablet, The Palette of King Narmer, seems like an evolution of the Code of Hamurabi. Both tell a story, but while the Hamurabi’s stele speaks of code and laws, King Narmer’s palette tells a story of war and victory.

By putting Egyptian gods in half human/half animal form around himself on the Palette, it is likely King Narmer believed they brought him good luck and helped him to win the battle. In addition, King Narmer depicted animals around himself to give the effect of him being part god.

Architecture from the Old Kingdom

In Egyptian art there are two time periods, the Old Kingdom and the New Kingdom. The Old Kingdom came first and laid the foundation for art as we know it today. Take a look at this “mastaba” it is an Egyptian tomb that looks very similar to the Sumerian temples or “ziggurats.” It is the tomb of King Zoser from the 3rd Dynasty.

Fourth Dynasty Pyramids

If we compare the ziggurat to the mastaba to the pyramids of the fourth dynasty, you can notice an evolution in the architecture of that time. These structures required an amazing amount of limestone rock and teamwork among hundreds of laborers who likely worked on building these pyramids for 50 years…for each one! The Great Pyramids of Gizeh: Menkaure 2525-275 BC, Khafre 2575-2525 BC, and Khufu 2600-2550 BC were incredibly large. Khufu is 775 feet on one side and 450 feet high, it contains 2.3 million blocks of stone weighing about 2.5 tons each.

The Great Sphinx

Another famous piece of sculpture from that time is the Great Sphinx which was built in front of the Pyramids of Gizeh from 2575-2525 BC. The Sphinx is made of sandstone, is 65 feet high and 240 feet long. The Sphinx stood watch at the entrances to the Pharoah’s tombs. Very similar to our Lamassu friends from the Assyrian time period, the kings of Egypt probably believed that the Sphinx would ward off any evil or trespassers.

Art from the New Kingdom

In the New Kingdom art, we start to see yet another evolution of art. In the sculpture called the Senmut with Princess Nefrua from Thebes of the 18th Dynasty 1490-1460 BC, we see a scuplture that combine human form and storytelling in the form of “hieroglyphics.” This is a natural combination of the palette or stele and the lamassu or sphinx. The Egyptian kings of this time believed that a “block statue” such as this would be an eternal home for their “ka,” their spirit.

The Tomb of Nebamun

As the art continued to grow and evolve, so too did the Egyptian’s concept of ways to express themselves and protect themselves from bad spirits. This can be seen in the hieroglyphics of the tomb of Nebamun, a noble man who was a scribe (writer) and seller of grains. Notice how we have human form depicted flat combined with hieroglyphics in the background.

The Tomb of Tutankhamen

What is even more interesting is that when we take a look at the tomb of Tutankhamen, we see a royal mummy, a godlen coffin and a mask of semi-precious stones. This is a natural evolution of the lamassu and sphinx. Since the pharoahs believed they were god-like, when they died they created mummies, coffins and masks of themselves to ward off evil spirits. And so, even though it is thousands of years later, people still feel the need to control their future and tell their stories through art.

Today’s Lesson

Today we are going to create a miniature sculpture called an “ankh.” In Egypt, an ankh is a talisman or special necklace carved with hieroglyphics that is designed to ward off evil. So, we will create our own hieroglyphics today and design our own ankhs to protect us from bad stuff. We’ll use clay that we roll out and flatten and then carve in it with pencils and plastic knives and punch a hole. After we bake the clay in the oven, we will use a thick piece of yarn or string to make a necklace that we can wear.

Book List

If your child enjoyed this particular lesson, here are some art books on the subject that they might also enjoy…

Off the Wall Museum Guides for Kids: Egyptian Art

American Folk Art for Kids: With 21 Activities

The Kids’ Multicultural Art Book: Art & Craft Experiences from Around the World (Williamson Kids Can! Series)

Hands Around the World: 365 Creative Ways to Encourage Cultural Awareness and Global Respect (Williamson Kids Can! Series)

If I Were a Kid in Ancient Egypt: Children of the Ancient World

Pyramids: 50 Hands-On Activities to Experience Ancient Egypt (Kaleidoscope Kids)

Ancient Egypt (Curious Kids Guides)

Exploring Ancient Egypt Fun Kit (Boxed Sets/Bindups) (Hardcover)

Mummies Made in Egypt (Reading Rainbow Book)


Class Lesson: Friday, December 19, 2008

After the cavemen, came early man who settled in Mesopotamia. They also found a way to communicate their hopes, their dreams and their victories. And, like early cave man, they wanted to control the future. So, how do you think they did this? They told stories using art.

The Tigris and Euphrates River Valleys

In the early fourth millenium B.C., the settlement of two great river valleys in Mesopotamia led to monumental acheivements in writing, architecture and politics. The two river valleys were called the Tigris and Euphrates. What made the land so special between the two rivers was that the earth was incredibly fertile which meant it was an ideal place to grow crops for food. The people that lived in this area at that time were called the Sumerians. Can you say Tigris and Euphrates?

The First Alphabet

The Sumerian people are believed to be the first ones to develop a written language. It was called “cuneiform.”  Their letters consisted of lines made from a wedge-shaped tool into tablets of stone. The first writings were about government and business transactions. Later on, they wrote stories such as: the Epic of Gilgamesh. It’s quite possible that the stories they used to tell with words or on cave walls were now the ones that they wrote down in their tablets.

The Gods and Architecture

Sumerians believed that their city-states were each under the protection of special spirits or nature gods. Each city-state had their own unique god that protected and looked after their people. The Sumerians built special temples at the center of their cities, they were called “ziggurats.” Now, if the temple is at the center and higher up than all the other houses, how important do you think they were? Super important or only kinda important? That’s right! They were very, very important.

The Standard of Ur

Sumerian kings believed very strongly in life after death and made sure they were buried with everything they could possibly need: helmets, daggers, bowls, jewelry, instruments and other special items. The most interesting of all the objects they found in these graves is The Standard of  Ur. It is a story of war and peace made of wood, shells, lapis lazuli and red limestone. It was created in 2700 B.C. and is 8″ high by 19″ wide. This is one of the first times that a story is told on wood from side to side and up and down, the way we read words today.

Assyrian Art

Many different people lived in the Mesopotamian river valley: the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Hittites, the Elamites and then the Assyrians. Because they fought so many people in order to conquer the land, they were believed to be very mean and cruel people. To show off how strong and invinceable they were, they built the royal citadel of Sargon II in 720 B.C. It had strong defensive walls and was built on a mound of dirt 50 feet high. Can you image how high that is?!

Lamassu: Protectors of the King

The doorway to the Khorsabad palace was guarded by really, really large statues of creatures called “Lamassu.” A Lamassu is a bull with a human head and wings, pretty scary looking don’t you think? This particular statue was 13′ 10″ high and made from limestone in 720 B.C. These creatures were made to protect the king from visible and invisible enemies. So, as long as the Lamassu were outside the palace, the kings believe nothing bad could happen to them. Doesn’t that sound cool?

Today’s Lesson

Today, all of you are going to pretend to be Kings and Queens. And…we are going to make our own special Lamassu guardians out of clay. So, first let’s pick the three animal parts we want to use in our sculpture. You can use a person’s head or an eagle’s head or a lion’s head. For the body, you might want to use a horse or a bull. You can add wings or a tail. And you can add claws to the feet or fangs to the teeth. Make it as scary as you like! Remember, this special guardian will protect you from anything scary.

After we’re done making our guardian out of clay, then I’m going to take them home and bake them in the oven to “fire” the clay which takes all of the water out of the clay and makes it very hard and strong. It will still be breakable but the shape will be permanent after we “fire” the statues. Great job everyone!

Mesopotamian Art Book List

If your child really enjoyed this particular lesson, here are some additional books that you can buy or check out from the library.

Just click on the links below.

Hands-On Mesopotamian Art

The New York Public Library Amazing Book of Mythology

Archaeology for Kids: Uncovering the Mysteries of Our Past

Hands-On Archaeology: Real-Life Activities for Kids

Class Lesson: Friday, November 21, 2008

In the beginning, there were no words, no alphabet, no books. Yet, early cave men found a way to communicate their hopes, their dreams and their victories. So, how do you think they did this? They told stories using art.

Cave Paintings from Spain and France

The very first cave paintings were discovered in 1896 in the Altamira Cave in Santander, Spain. These paintings dated back to 14,000 BC and showed bison over 8′ long! This particular painting is called the Bisons of the Altamira Cave.

Later, archeologists discovered the paintings in the Hall of Bulls Cave in Lascaux, France. What was so interesting about this find was that  it showed so many different kinds of animals. Why do you think this is so? I will give you a hint: they were painted at different times. Now, why do you think there are so many different animals? That’s right! They are from different times. Each group of animals likely represents a hunt that was performed at a different time. It would seem as though they used this cave over and over again for artwork, with many different artists taking turns.

The Very First Artists in the World

What is even more interesting is that a very long time ago, when cave men were alive, only a few very special people were allowed to create art. They were called Shaman or hunter-magicians. Early cave men believed that if they drew an animal on a wall, they would capture its spirit and the Shaman would be able to control the success of the hunt.

So, if they drew bison on a wall, what animal do you think the Shaman were trying to control with their art? That’s right! In the Altamira Cave from Spain, they were trying to control bison. But, in the cave paintings from the Hall of the Bulls, what animal do you think they were trying to control? I’ll give you a hint: the name of the Cave is Hall of the Bulls. That’s right! They were probably trying to control bulls and ensure the hunters a good hunt.

Cave Man’s First Signature

Of all the cave paintings that were found, my favorite is the one from the Pech-Merle Cave in Lot, France from 14,000 BC. In this particular painting, you see a spotted horse with a negative hand imprint next to it. Since early cave men did not have words or an alphabet or language, this is probable their very first expression of identity or how they wrote their signature next to their artwork. Some believe that these first handprints may have inspired the development of written language at a later date.

Another is of this early painting of man from the Hall of the Bulls in Lauscaux, France. In this particular painting we see a man with a face of a bird. This could be the depiction of the Shaman himself. If early Shaman believed that there was a special spirit that protected them, what animal spirit do you think was protecting this one? That’s right! It probably was a bird.











Early Art Tools

When early cave men artists or Shaman first created art, there was no such thing as paint or brushes or canvas. They had to work with what they could find. They used the cave walls instead of paper or canvas, twigs or leaves as brushes and different types of dirt and berries for paint.








Today’s Lesson

Today you are all going to pretend to be Shaman, hunter-magicians. We are going to go on a nature walk to collect sticks, twigs and leaves then bring them back here to paint with them onto our cave walls. Now, since we don’t exactly have cave walls, we will be using the inside of brown paper bags. And, you will be signing your work with a handprint.

Since we are not cave men or hunters, the animal we will choose to draw today can be one that you have seen at the zoo. Pick an animal that you like or one that you think is particularly magical to you and we will create a cave painting so that you can magically control it for one day! Choose carefully and think about your animal as you are searching for painting tools. If it’s spiky, you’ll want a twig to paint the spikes or horns. If it’s furry, maybe you’ll want some soft leaves to paint the fur. There’s no wrong way to do it, so just remember to have fun!

After we get back from the nature walk, you will each work at your group tables and I will come around and help you while you are creating your masterpiece! This is supposed to be fun, so be as creative with your painting as you like!


Cave Painting Art Book List

If your child really enjoyed this particular lesson, here are some additional books that you can buy or check out from the library.

Just click on the link below.

The Usborne Story of Painting: Cave Painting to Modern Art (Fine Art Series)

Cave Paintings to Picasso: The Inside Scoop on 50 Art Masterpieces

Frommer’s 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up (500 Places)

Geology Rocks!: 50 Hands-On Activities to Explore the Earth (Kaleidoscope Kids)

Archaeology for Kids: Uncovering the Mysteries of Our Past, 25 Activities (For Kids series)

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