Medieval Masterpieces

Grade Level: 
Student Level: 
Middle School

Rich intellectual and technical achievements distinguish the art of the Middle Ages. Throughout Europe manuscript illumination, architecture, sculpture, and metalwork flourished under the patronage of church and court. In this lesson students encounter splendid liturgical objects such as a gold and porphyry altarpiece made for an 11th century German countess and a silver vessel for a holy relic that once belonged to a Byzantine emperor. Courtly items featured in the lesson include a whimsical table fountain and Gothic-style tapestries made for a chateau. Biblical subjects such as Daniel in the lion's den-seen on a medieval column capital-help make connections between art and religion for classes studying world religions, culture, and/or European history.

Program Format: 
  • Discuss characteristics of the Middle Ages and the prevalence of religious art.
  • View a column capital in the museum's collection, and discuss how works of art were used to convey religious stories to a vastly illiterate population during the Middle Ages.
  • Define reliquaries (containers for precious religious objects) and brainstorm ideas for such vessels today.
  • View sacred objects including an illuminated manuscript and funerary sculptures
  • Introduce luxury objects, which were not created for religious purposes, such as tapestries, table fountains, and lavishly decorated armor.
  • Students will understand that the Medieval time period is rich both intellectually and spiritually; a point that can be observed through the examination of religious and secular artwork.
  • Students will understand the connection between religion and art in the Middle Ages.
  • Students will understand the various methods that artists employ to communicate effectively to a vastly illiterate public.