Unicorn Tapestry @ The Cloisters

One of the most famous medieval artworks has to be the Unicorn Tapestries, especially the Capture of the Unicorn. Luckily The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired the tapestries together to display in their lovely and quaint Met Cloisters (dedicated to medieval art). Because  of the low lighting in the room, my pictures did not come out super awesome, so I’m supplementing with photos from The Met.

There is still a lot of mystery surrounding the story of the hunt and capture of this mythical creature. Ideas abound that the unicorn is a symbol for the purity of Christ and the spear going through the unicorn is supposed to symbolize the lance through Christ’s side while on the cross. Perhaps, the unicorn is a symbol of virginal purity (since only a virgin would be able to attract a unicorn) so maybe this is commemorating a marriage?



Something that is also intriguing about this piece the enigmatic letters of “A & E” hidden throughout the tapestries. See the image above and below for the “A & E” tied to the center tree. Is it the initials of the person who commissioned the piece? The monogram of the wedded couple? Does it stand for Adam and Eve?

On total there are 7 tapestries as part of the series that each measure a whopping 12 by 14 feet! The room is not very large and really makes you feel like you are within the story. Another thing that is incredible about seeing these pieces in person is the amount of detail in the tapestry, especially in the background with the flora and fauna. They have catalogued over 100 species of plants in these tapestries. And you can easily see from my picture above that he pieces are covered in individual plants! An art historical and horticultural masterpiece!

Adding to their fame, the tapestry series has also influence film, most notably Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and appeared in the Gryffindor Tower in Harry Potter.



Information was adapted from the article “Why the Mystery of the Met’s Unicorn Tapestry Remains Unsolved” by Tiffany Jow on Artsy.

Read more: “Animation History: Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty'” on Lauren Magaret, “Capital and Credibility in Sleeping Beauty: Eyvind Earle and the Disney Pre-Renaissance” on Beams on Film & “Art in Disney: Sleeping Beauty” on Art Docent Program



Student Series! Chartres Cathedral

This piece is all about the AP Art History cathedral of Chartres but funny enough it written by a Humanities student who never took Art History. I may or may not have gently guided my student in this direction. 🙂


Chartres Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, is a Gothic cathedral located in Chartres, France, about 80 kilometers southwest of Paris. This is also a Gothic church with pointed arches, naves, and most significantly, flying buttresses. The cathedral is also significant for its many stained-glass windows and sculptures. Because most of its 12th-and 13th-century stained glass and sculpture survived the fire. Chartres Cathedral is one of the most completely surviving medieval churches in history. Chartres cathedral was also one of the first sites to be included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979. (See! I even get my students hooked on UNESCO lol)

Read more: Cologne: The city of the Rhine, the Cathedral, & the Three Kings


Chartres’ Architecture & Design

The oldest parts of the cathedral are its crypt and the west portal, also called the Royal Portal. Both are remnants of a Romanesque church that was mostly destroyed by the fire in 1194. The present cathedral was constructed on the foundations of that earlier church and consecrated in 1260.

In many ways, Chartres cathedral’s design resembles those of contemporary Gothic churches, especially Laon Cathedral, but it also displays significant innovations with its tall arches, narrow triforium, and huge clerestory. The flying buttresses enabled the builders to eliminate the tribune above the aisle.

Read more: Student Series! Stained Glass and Gargoyles


Stained Glass Windows 

By the beginning of the 13th century, the influence of the Gothic style on stained glass windows was increasing. The stained-glass windows transmit light through the glass rather than reflect it, so it transforms the natural life into a beautiful kaleidescope. Chartres nave is so dark because of the colored glass in the windows instead of clear glass. This would block some of the sun from entering the church giving the dark feel inside the church.

On September 5, 1194, a fire broke out in the church of Chartres. However, 152 out of the original 176 stained glass windows survived this fire. The best Chartres window that survived the fire was called the Notre Dame de la Belle Verriere, also called Our Lady of the Beautiful Window. The central section with a red background depicts the Virgin Mary enthroned with baby Jesus in her lap. This glass window is over 12 feet high and full of color and intricate details.

Read more: Pilgrimage in Art History

TEMPLATE_ Student Series!

The many questions surrounding Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait

This post was originally published June 6th on The Artstor Blog, The many questions surrounding Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait. It’s a fantastic art history blog if you are interested, make sure to follow! Also, this is a great article about an image from the AP Art History 250 image set.

All images in this blog post are from the original Artstor blog database from the National Gallery of Art.

ang-arnolfini-fullJune is the most popular month to marry, an excellent reason to take a look at one of the world’s most famous wedding paintings–although we ended up wondering if that, indeed, was what we were seeing.

At first glance, Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait (1434) appears to be an exquisitely rendered but otherwise straightforward depiction of a wealthy merchant and his wife. But take a second look (or third or fourth), and a more intriguing image emerges. The room in which the Arnolfinis pose is laden with images that signal wealth, have religious implications, or are just plain…odd.

We don’t know exactly who the couple is in the Arnolfini portrait–they’re commonly thought to be Giovanni de Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife Costanza Trenta–but we do know that they were mostly likely part of the Italian merchant class in Flanders and that they were very, very rich. Like, Kardashian rich. And, frankly, if we want to continue the reality TV comparison, this painting is a carefully curated portrayal to signify wealth–much like the opulence we see depicted in Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

How do we know this couple was wealthy? The chandelier, stained glass windows, intricately woven rug, sandals, fur-trimmed robes, mirror, dog, and oranges are all signifiers of incredible wealth in 15th century Belgium. Many of these images also do double duty, indicating not only wealth but also conveying allusions to religious and fertility motifs. The chandelier has one lit candle, which represents the seeing eye of God; the mirror is decorated with scenes from the Passion of Christ; and an unblemished mirror is also a symbol of the piety of Mary, Mother of God. There are also rosary beads hanging next to the mirror. Oranges represent fecundity in art, as does the red bed. There is a figure on the finial of St. Margaret, the patron saint of pregnancy and childbirth, while the cherry tree outside the window is a symbol of love.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t address the rather pregnant appearance of Signora Arnolfini. Again, was this an accurate representation of the couple, a hope for the future, another allusion to Mary, or merely a fashionable dress?

And then there are the images that don’t seem to have context. Why is Jan Van Eyck’s signature on the wall above the mirror? Why does it look more like, say, a signature on a piece of paper than a signed piece of artwork? And who are the figures reflected in the mirror? Is one the artist himself? Are they witnesses? And, if so, are they witnessing an actual marriage? Look at how Giovanni is holding his wife’s hand–it looks a bit like when a couple takes each other’s hands while pledging their vows. So maybe Van Eyck’s signature is actually witnessing a marriage signatory… but, if this is what’s being portrayed, how does that line up with who we think is represented in the painting? Giovanni and Costanza were married in 1426; why wait eight years to have a portrait of your marriage depicted? We also know that Costanza died–possibly during childbirth–by 1433. So is the painting just a portrait? A depiction of a marriage? Or a remembrance of a wife who has passed?


The mysteries of the Arnolfini portrait, along with Van Eyck’s masterful technique, continue to enthrall viewers well into its seventh century of existence!

You can see the images from The National Gallery, London–and zoom in for much closer details–by searching for Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife in the Artstor Digital Library.

Student Series! Journey of the Book of Kells

Journey of the Book of Kells

The Book of Kells is a well-known illustrated manuscript and one of the most famous medieval Christian pieces of art. It contains the Four Gospels of the New Testament in Latin and has been claimed to be “the work of an angel” (Gardner’s Art Through the Ages). Also known as Leabhar Chemannais, the Book of Columbia, and the Gospel of Colum Cille, the book is renowned for its beautiful illuminated pages full of detail and color. It is incredible how this detailed, fragile book survived hundreds of years and traveled many miles to finally reside in Dublin, Ireland.

Interested in reading about Student Series about medieval manuscripts? Click HERE!


Surviving the Journey


The book remained in the St. Colum Cille monastery in Iona for a short period of time, preserved in an elaborate metalwork box. The book was moved from Iona to Kells in 806 CE, after Vikings raided the St. Colum Cille monastery, killing several monks. The remaining monks fled to Kells with the book and tried to return to Iona, but ultimately stayed in Kells. In 899 CE, the Abbey of Kells was destroyed by the Danes. It was later rebuilt, but then Danish forces destroyed it again in 918, 967, and 996 CE. The book suffered water damage in the attacks and the cover was lost along with some pages that were never recovered.

The first documentation that the book was actually in Kells was from Annals of Ulster, who reported the book was stolen in 1006 CE from Kells. It was later returned to Kells from Donegal, along with the Book of Durrow. The book eventually gained the title the Book of Kells because it spent the majority of the medieval time period preserved in the Abbey of Kells in County Meath, where it was displayed on a church altar. Margin writing was added on to a few of the pages sometime during the 11th and 12th century and during the 15th century, a poem was added on to folio 289. Since then, the book has not been written on.

Read more about writing in the AP Art History curriculum HERE!


Final Resting Spot


In 1641, the Abbey of Kells was destroyed and in 1953, the governor of Kells, Charles Lambert, had the book sent to Dublin. It was brought to Trinity College and was put on display in the mid-19th century. The Book of Kells is still on display in Trinity College’s Library. Even after hundreds of years, it is still in good condition and can be appreciated by the millions of people who visit it every year.

Painting Techniques in Art History

painting techniques in ap arh

There are a million ways to make art, one of the most popular though time has been painting, but even within that category there are a few different options. The ones that appear most often in the AP Art History Curriculum are: fresco, tempera, & oil painting.



Frescos are the preferred method of antiquity, especially famous are the frescos of the Roman town of Pompeii. This style was also heavily used during the Renaissance to emulate the style of the ancients. There’s a little chemistry lesson needed to understand this enduring art medium.

From the 250:

  • Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci
  • House of the Vettii
  • Catacomb of Priscilla
  • Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel by Giotto di Bondone
  • Sistine Chapel ceiling and altar wall frescos by Michelangleo
  • School of Athens by Raphael
  • Triumph of the Name of Jesus ceiling fresco by Giovanni Battista Gaulli
  • Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park by Diego Rivera

FUN FACT: Benjamin Moore has a color called “Pompeiian red” after the town of Pompeii.

The Uffizi did not allow pictures when I went but now they do! (via)

Tempera Painting

This style of painting was certainly the most prevalent during the Late Middle Ages in Europe and continued to be important well into the Renaissance in Italy. This type of painting is egg-based and allows for nice layering.

From the 250:

  • Madonna and Child with Two Angels by Fracked Filippo Lippi
  • Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli
  • Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci
  • Screen with the Siege of Belgrade and hunting scene (partial)
  • The Scream by Edvard Munch (partial)
  • The Migration of the Negro, Panel no. 49 by Jacob Lawrence (partial)

img_2343img_2352Oil Painting

Oil paint is reported to have been invented during the Northern Renaissance (some even think by Jan van Eyck himself) and was heavily used all through out the Renaissance into modern times. It allows for much greater detail and precision than tempera paints. Biggest benefit is certainly the crazy amount of detail you can get in one painting; things that I can’t even see until I zoom in! However, oil paints take FOREVER to dry, which can be a bonus or a negative, depending on your opinion.

From the 250:

  • Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece) by the Workshop of Robert Campin
  • The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck
  • Entombment of Christ by Jacopo da Pontorno
  • Venus of Urbino by Titian
  • The Virgin of Guadalupe by Miguel González (partial)
  • Isenheim altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald
  • Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci
  • Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
  • Calling of St. Matthew by Caravggio
  • Henri IV Receives the Portrait of Marie de’Medici by Peter Paul Rubens
  • Woman Holding a Balance by Johannes Vermeer
  • Portrait of Sir Juana Inés de la Cruz by Miguel Cabrera
  • Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez
  • Fruits and Insects by Rachel Ruysch
  • Spaniard and Indian Produce a Mestizo attributed to Juan Rodríguez Juárez
  • The Tête à Tête by William Hogarth
  • A Philosopher Giving a Lecture at the Orrey by Joseph Wright of Derby
  • The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard
  • The Oath of the Horatii by Jacques-Louis David
  • Self-Portrait by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun
  • La Grande Odalisque by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
  • Liberty Leading the People by Eugéne Delacroix
  • The Oxbow by Thomas Cole
  • Slave Ship by J.M.W. Turner
  • The Stone Breakers by Gustave Courbet
  • Olympia by Édouard Manet
  • The Saint-Lazare Station by Claude Monet
  • The Valley of Mexico form the Hillside of Santa Isabel by José María Velasco
  • The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh
  • Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? by Paul Gaugin
  • Mont Sainte-Victoire by Paul Cézanne
  • Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso
  • The Kiss by Gustav Klimt
  • The Portuguese by Georges Braque
  • Goldfish by Henri Matisse
  • Improvisation 28 (second version) by Vassily Kandinsky
  • Self-Portrait as a Soldier by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
  • Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow by Piet Mondrian
  • The Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo
  • Woman I by Willen de Kooning
  • Tamati Wake Nene by Gottfried Lindauer
  • Trade (Gifts for Trading Land with White People) by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (partial)

Read my post on the Churches of Florence for more information on the Entombment of Christ!

Milano Santa Maria Delle Grazie Holy Mary Of Grace Church pertaining to The Amazing Santa Maria delle Grazie Milan for tourist attractions Motivate your trips


So, you’ve probably noticed that the Last Supper falls in to ALL three categories! That is not a mistake. Da Vinci decided to seriously “experiment” with his creation of the Last Supper and it is not doing well. Will and I got to visit while passing through Milan and I hate to say it but the textbook versions are better. However, it is a UNESCO Site!


Book Review! Rashi’s Daughters series

In honor of the start of Passover tonight, I’ve got a medieval Jewish book review!

I was first introduced to this wonderful trilogy by my Jewish roommate in college (the same one who introduced me to Purim) and I picked up the other two books quiet recently in preparation for my units on Medieval Europe and World Religions. I absolutely LOVE this series and would read more by the author, Maggie Anton, into infinity.

Read more: Star of Davida, Rashi’s Daughters


Each book centers around one of the three daughters of Rashi, who is a monumentally important and influential medieval Jewish scholar. Through these women’s eyes, you get to learn about the lives of Jewish women during this time period and intersect other major events of the Middle Ages.

Although this is certainly a book of historical fiction, the author researched a lot while writing it so it convincingly allows you to step into the past. While the books seem geared for teens, they are thoroughly enjoyable by adults. If you have any interests in women’s history – this is a must read!

Read more: Exploring surprising lives of ‘Rashi’s Daughters


P.S. As an AP Art History teacher this also helps me glimpse into the lives of the women of the Golden Haggadah better.

Cover image: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/81/dd/90/81dd905a4aa089839902c3107270156c.jpg

Student series! Two Medieval Manuscripts

I love it when I have old or current AP Art History students in Humanities, because they inevitably write awesome posts that are linked to by AP curriculum.


two medieval manuscripts

An illuminated manuscript is specifically a manuscript in which the text is supplemented by the addition or decoration. Most manuscripts were written on parchment and made out of animal hides that were flattened down and cut down to their appropriate size. Creating a manuscript was known as a “complex and frequently costly process.”

Interested in more medieval manuscripts? Student Series! Miserable Monks

Only the wealthy obtained these religious books because they were so highly valued in worth and most people at the time were unable to read, especially in Latin which was the language that was integrated into these books. There were several manuscripts made during this time, but some of the most popular ones known to the Middle Ages are various Book of Hours and the Lindisfarne Gospels.

The Book of Hours



The Book of Hours got its name from the text called the “Hours of the Virgin,” which was a
devotional text that was used to venerate Mother Mary. This was a small prayer-book, much smaller than an average sized paperback book.

The Book of Hours was a prayer-book that was designed for laymen and consisted of a compendium of psalms, verses and hymns from the Bible, and antiphons and prayers that were all used mainly for private worship. It first appeared within the mid-13th century and eventually became mass-produced. These prayer books were thought of more as a medieval status symbol and it represented literacy for the middle class as well.

Interested in the Art of Writing in the AP curriculum? Writing & Art

Lindisfarne Gospels

The Book of Lindisfarne Gospels was originally created in Lindisfarne, an island just off the coast of Northumberland which is located in the UK. The scribe that wrote this book started out by interpreting and contemplating the words from a manuscript that was created in Italy.

Within this book, he translated the Gospels of Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John and interpreted it into Latin. While creating this book, he illuminated the gospel text while integrating images of snakes and birds that twist themselves into several knots or other “curvaceous and overlapping forms” that would convey meditative contemplation of the illusion of the three-dimensional images that brought the pages of manuscripts to life.


Saint Luke Incipit Page

  • “Incipit”, which means the opening words of Saint Luke’s gospel
  • Has numerous Celtic spiral ornaments and the step patterns that are used appear to be enlarged especially in the “O”
  • In the lower right hand corner, the manuscript includes the detail of a cat that ate 8 birds

Saint Luke Portrait Page

  • The traditional symbol that was associated specifically with Saint Luke was the calf; known to be the sacrificial animal at the time
  • Saint Luke is being identified by Greek words while using Latin characters; “Hagios Lucas”
  • He sits with his legs crossed while holding a scroll and a writing instrument to indicate that he was one of the main writers or scribes

Cross Page from the Book of Matthew

  • Integrates a mixture of traditional Celtic imagery and Christian theology
  • Cross is depicted on a page that is filled with “horror vacui” decoration
  • Arranged symmetrically
  • Use of zoomorphic characters within