BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - “Is that a fly in the painting?” One student asked flicking their fingers across the face of his iPad zooming in on a detail of Sebastiano del Piombo’s 1516 painting of Cardinal Bandinello Sauli. It was! The artist had playfully added a detailed fly on the cassock of the Cardinal. Another student zoomed in on the rug covering the table with its distinctly Islamic designs asking: “Is that a prayer rug on the table?”
Over two days, seniors in Sharon Leahy’s European History class worked through a progression of maps, documents, and paintings that detailed the changes wrought by the Renaissance. As flat Byzantine Madonna paintings gave way to lifelike portrayals of religious scenes and finally portraits of individuals with proper perspective, students were able to trace important themes: the rise of secularism, the evidence of trade with the Islamic world and the cross pollination of artistic elements it brought, and of course the progression of art through the masterworks of everyone from DaVinci and Michelangelo to Druer and Bruegel.
This tremendous lesson was made possible by the generous support of Investors Bank, which provided a grant for GLHS teacher Sharon Leahy to spend a week as one of only 53 participants from across the country for the 2017 National Gallery of Art Teacher Institute on the Art of the Renaissance in Washington D.C.
Participants attended lectures by Art Historians with each day devoted to a different topic or artist. These expert lectures were followed by tours through the National Gallery where curators showcased specific works that highlighted key elements of the day’s topic. Finally, there was always time for teachers to collaborate on instructional strategies to deliver the content in the classroom.
The students in Ms. Leahy’s class were enthused. GL senior Aislinn O’Keefe said, “The focus on the details that Ms. Leahy was able to bring really brought a new connection to what we were learning. Senior Alex Ennis echoed, “It gave us real points to focus on.” Other students were equally impressed. Tim Koubeck said, “It gave new perspective to Italian humanism in context of International trade affecting Italian Renaissance.”
GLHS Principal Rob Nixon sat in on the lesson and commented, “It was impressive to see the way that Ms. Leahy incorporated the knowledge she learned at the National Gallery Art Institute into her lesson. She built the lesson so that the students were able to explore on their iPads in a way that really moved everything to the next level. This is an example of great community support from Investors, and a talented teacher’s combining the unique insight the Institute provided and technology to really benefit GL students.”