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Lesson Plans Library 9-12 > Fine Arts
Rembrandt: His Life and Times
Rembrandt: His Life and Times
Grade level: 9-12 Subject: Fine Arts Duration: 2 class periods

lesson plan support
Student Objectives
  • Review important facts about the famous 17th-century Dutch painter Rembrandt.
  • Compare two of Rembrandt's self-portraits and discuss the style of each.
  • Explore other Rembrandt paintings and curate an imaginary exhibit of his work.
  • Create an exhibit guide describing the overall theme of the exhibit and the works within it.
  • Discovering the Arts: Rembrandt: His Life and Timesvideo
  • Computer with Internet access
  • Color printer
  • High-quality photocopies of two Rembrandt self-portraits, one etching and one painting
  1. Review basic facts about Rembrandt van Rijn. Where and when did he live? What types of artwork did he create? What were some of the subjects he painted? Why was his work so famous? How did his work represent the history of the Netherlands?
    See the following Web sites for background information on the artist:
  2. Next, show students prints of two Rembrandt self-portraits:Make available several high-quality photocopies that students can observe in small groups. Or, print out one large copy and give students time to observe each painting closely.
  3. Ask students to describe the styles of these two self-portraits. How are they alike? How are they different? Tell the class that Rembrandt has been described as an "imaginative realist." Ask students to discuss what they think this term means, referencing the above works as examples. How was Rembrandt an imaginative realist? How did he evoke feeling in his work?
  4. Next, tell the class that they are going to curate their own exhibit about Rembrandt. As curators, their job will be to tell a story about Rembrandt using 10 to 15 different works. The exhibit will consist of the works they choose, the order in which they present the works, and their descriptions of the works.
  5. Once students have decided on a theme for their exhibit, ask them to make a list of Rembrandt works and decide how they will be organized. For example, they may choose to organize Rembrandt's works chronologically, by subject, or by type of work. Then, ask each group to produce an exhibit guide with pictures and supporting text to describe the overall theme and organization of their exhibit.
  6. Students may highlight some of the works in the video, or they may discover others in their research. The following works are featured in the video:
    • The Night Watch
    • The Syndics of the Clothmakers' Guild
    • An Artist in His Studio
    • The Prophet Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem
    • Self-Portrait, Wide-Eyed
    • The Sermon of John the Baptist
    • The Feast of King Belshazzar
    • The Prodigal Son
    • Man in Oriental Clothing
    • Landscape with Stone Bridge
    • Hundred Guilder Print
    • Bathsheba with King David's Letter
    • Titus at His Desk
    • Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph
    • The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilus
    • The Jewish Bride
    • The Suicide of Lucretia
    • An Old Man
    • Simeon's Song of Praise
    • Homer
  7. Students will find many Rembrandt works online. The following Web sites include some of his works:
  8. Each exhibit guide should include small color images of the 10 to 15 works they selected, in the order in which they would appear in the museum exhibition. The guide should also include supporting text that describes the significance of the works and how they fit in with the theme of the exhibit.
  9. Have students share their imaginary exhibits and exhibit guides with the class.

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Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • 3 points: Students showed a strong understanding of Rembrandt's work and style; produced a thoughtful, complete exhibit and guide highlighting 10 to 15 works; used images and text to clearly describe the overall theme of the exhibit.
  • 2 points: Students showed a satisfactory understanding of Rembrandt's work and style; produced an adequate exhibit and guide highlighting about 10 works; used images and text to adequately describe the overall theme of the exhibit.
  • 1 point: Students showed a poor understanding of Rembrandt's work and style; produced an incomplete or unclear exhibit and guide highlighting less than 10 works; did not use images and text adequately to describe the overall theme of the exhibit.

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Definition:An artistic technique in which light and shadow highlight emotion and drama
Context:With the refinement of the claire-obscure style, Rembrandt achieved the typical illusion of space and atmosphere, the trademark of a true Rembrandt.

Definition:A graphic technique in which a metal plate is engraved, coated with ink, and then printed on paper with a press
Context:Rembrandt's etchings are intensely realistic. With brilliant economy and confident use of line, they offer an immediate view of fields, branches, and trees.

history painting
Definition:A painting that illustrates scenes from the Bible, mythology, or historical events
Context:Because he had an appreciation for history paintings, Rembrandt painted very few landscapes.

Definition:The colors that characterize an artist's work
Context:Rembrandt substituted a palette of brown tones for his earlier palette of bright colors.

Definition:A character study that features the head of a particular type of person, like an elderly man
Context: Man in Oriental Clothingis an example of the tronie style. It illustrates Rembrandt’s ongoing interest in exotic and evocative faces.

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Academic Standards
National Art Education Association
The National Art Education Association has developed national guidelines for what students should know and be able to do in the arts. To view the standards online, go
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:
  • Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures
  • Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others
Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
McREL's Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K–12 Education addresses 14 content areas. To view the standards and benchmarks, visit
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:
  • Visual Arts ? Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures; Understands the characteristics and merits of one's own artwork and the artwork of others
  • Arts: Art Connections ? Understands connections among the various art forms and other disciplines

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