Bartolome Esteban Murillo’s Adoration of the Shepherds

The Adoration of the Shepherds by Murillo.

Welcome to our 25th day of art on Nativity.

This work is by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, a Spanish Baroque painter who spent his entire career in Seville, Spain. Known for his religious paintings, peasant children, and lively street scenes, Murillo’s works were very popular, both in his life time and after.

Churches were the largest patron of the arts during the 1600’s, and during the Counter Reformation the Catholic Church  invested heavily in art. There was a need for works that communicated the reforms the church was making and to reinforce key doctrinal points.

Murillo was a devout Catholic with deeply held religious convictions. He was also a man with great imagination who could inject compassion and realism into Biblical figures making them come alive. His paintings allowed people to insert themselves into the story and identify with the characters, drawing them into a deeper devotion and understanding.

Article on Murillo's Adoration of the Shepherd

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Adoration of the Shepherd, 1646-1650. Hermitage Museum, Russia.

Imagination is a powerful tool of both art and religion. In Murillo’s works we see a master combine the two to give us a powerful painting of the Incarnation. There are 7 figures in this painting, 5 of which are highlighted by light.

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Merry, Merry

Christmas is coming....


Due to family celebrations there is going to be a 48 hour delay before the last two days of Advent in Art are up. I’ve been writing as I go, and the family time has caught up with me, so I’ll be back on the 26th and 27th.

Then I’ll be exploring a few more paintings between Jan. 6 and Jan 19 on the theme of Epiphany.

So more to come.

Wishing you and yours joy, hope, and blessings in the coming year.

The Holy Family by Michelangelo

Michelangelo's Holy Family, also known as the Doni Tondo

Welcome to day 17.

Today’s work is very different from what we have been looking at thus far. While the Doni Tondo is not a traditionally Christmas themed painting I’ve included it for a number of reasons. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

This painting was done by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, or Michelangelo. One of the greatest artist in history, he was a master sculptor, painter, and architect. There are not enough superlatives to heap on Michelangelo. His is the most celebrated and documented life of the 16th century.

Living nearly 90 years, and producing masterpieces for most of those years, we have an abundance of his works at which to marvel. We have letters, commissions, and even 2 biography’s of his life, written while he was still alive.

Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor, and painting a ‘lesser art’. In fact, his commission to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling was offered due to the suggestion of a competitor who hoped the famous sculptor would fail. He not only didn’t fail, he expanded the vision for the ceiling and painted one of the most famous cycles of art ever done.

Article on Michelangelo's Doni Tondo

Michelangelo, Doni Tondo, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

The Doni Tondo was a commission he received prior to starting the Sistine Ceiling. A tondo is a round painting, the shape commonly used for domestic scenes. Doni comes from the name of the man who commissioned the work, Agnolo Doni. The painting was to celebrate either his marriage to Maddalena Strozzi or the baptism of their first child. For either, a painting of the Holy Family would fit a domestic theme. The story goes that when the painting was delivered Michelangelo wanted 70 ducats for it. Doni countered that with sending 40 ducats. This insulted Michelangelo, who said the painting would now cost 100 ducats. Doni really wanted the painting, so he sent the original price of 70 ducats. Michelangelo was not to be so easily appeased and insisted on 145 ducats. I’m not sure how the bartering eventually ended, but records indicate it hung in the Doni house for some time.

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Mosaic in the Chora Church, Turkey

Day 2 in our Advent in Art Series

Article 2 in a series about the nativity in Western art.Welcome to day 2.  If you wish to read other post in this series you can find the links here.  As the posts go live you can access them there.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,  in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.  Luke 2:4-5

Today we move to Istanbul, Turkey. The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora was a medieval Byzantine Greek Orthodox church. Over it’s long history it has been converted into a mosque, and is now a museum.

Chora is translated ‘country’ or ‘field’.

In the early 4th century the church, which was part of a monastery, was built outside of the walls of Constantinople, hence the designation of a church in the fields or country. In the late 5th century the walls were rebuilt and the church was included within the walls, however, the name remained. Undergoing several building programs, the building as it exist today was largely done in the 11th century, with the interior decorations completed between 1315 and 1321.

The interior of the church is decorated with frescoes and mosaics that were endowed, or paid for by the powerful statesman, Theodore Metochites. While we do not know the names of any of the artist who were employed, we can appreciate the devotional nature of their work. I am always awed by the beauty of these old churches. The prospect of painting frescoes or building mosaics on the domed ceilings without any of the modern conveniences we have at our disposal is impressive.

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Nicola Pisano – Nativity Panel in the Baptistry in Pisa.

Day 1 in Our Advent in Art Series, Nicola Pisano

Day 1 in a 25 day exploration of the nativity in Western art.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory.   John 1:14

Welcome to Day 1.

I know that for many Christians, Easter is the time of year to contemplate the sacrifice Christ made to save us, but, personally, the season of advent has always been more meaningful. The concept of the incarnation: God taking on flesh and coming as an infant with the purpose of sacrificing Himself to redeem his creation–it’s just more than I can put into words.

Yet, throughout the history of Christianity, artists have attempted to make visible the miracle of the nativity. Over the next 25 days we will be exploring 500 years of nativity art. I’ve chosen works that are significant within the history of art as well as personal favorites. Narrowing down my choices was difficult.

My hope contemplating these masterpieces will not only increase your knowledge of art but  reawaken in you the wonder and beauty of the incarnation.

The first work we will be considering is a panel from a pulpit designed and sculpted by Nicola Pisano completed in 1260. A bit of background is necessary to put this work into it’s historical context. Pisano lived and worked in Pisa, Italy in the 13th century. He was both an architect and a sculptor.

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Introducing Children to Art

Caleb and Monet, Joseph and Picasso

Art has been a part of our school life from the time my boys were toddlers, both producing art and enjoying works by others. I enjoy art and I think exposing our children to beauty always has rewards.

When the boys were young I collected postcards, calendars, posters, and books. I didn’t have a formal plan, we just enjoyed looking at the works of a variety of artists. If they expressed an interest we might read up on a particular painter, but for the most part I just made the introductions and let them gravitate toward the works that spoke to them.

As time passed they became quite familiar with many different styles and time periods and could accurately identify and group paintings. We made it a game, putting out cards and seeing if they could pick out all the Van Goghs (Van Gogh is a good one to start with as his style is so distinct). Sometimes we would study a work and then turn it over and see how many details we could remember.

We have the privilege of introducing our children to geniuses like Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Michelangelo,  all incredibly gifted artists who were able to express their vision of the world in moving and beautiful ways. We can, in a sense, enter into a conversation with these masters. It’s an amazing thought, your child can enter into a ‘dialog’ with some of the greatest minds and talents the world has known by thoughtfully contemplating and studying their work.

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Hate history?

Ditch the textbooks and make history come alive!


Great article on teaching students to LOVE history. No more boring dry textbooksDo you hate History? Did you watch the clock tick off each minute as your teacher droned on? Did you suffer through dry readings, memorize meaningless dates, and answer pointless review questions? Do you dread subjecting your child to the same boring process?

If so, I’m sorry. Believe me, it doesn’t have to be that way!

While in college I have a vivid memory of sitting in the library studying with some friends  for an upcoming test for World Civilization. We were reviewing English history during the 1500’s.  My friends were struggling with dates, names and seemingly unrelated events.

I wasn’t struggling. The reason… in high school I had read a series of historical novels set in the courts of England. Nothing boring or dry there. There had been romance, court intrigue, religious conflicts, betrayal, heroes and villains. I’d cried for Queen Catherine as she watched her marriage and family crumble because she couldn’t produce a male heir, and was horrified as her daughter, Bloody Mary, turned her reign into one marked by revenge, fanaticism and bloodshed.

I wrestled with the issues that caused England to break from the Catholic church and was fascinated by the complex and fragile allegiances that were formed to consolidate power. The characters I met were complicated individuals who were forced to make decisions that would affect whole countries, individuals often beset with self-doubt and questions. I found myself caught up in their dilemmas wondering what I would do, what they should do…and rarely finding a satisfactory answer.

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Shakespeare Resources

Great tools to help you introduce Shakespeare to your kids.

Great list of resources for teaching Shakespeare

In a previous article I made the case for teaching Shakespeare to your students. If you haven’t read that article you can find it here.

Or if you are interested in background information that is helpful when teaching Shakespeare you can check here.





As promised, here are some resources I recommend

This is a wonderful resource. Brightest Heaven of Invention by Peter J. Leithart will give you all you need to teach 6 of Shakespeare’s plays. This is a Christian guide and one I refer to constantly.

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Reading for your child is often the best tool to teach them to read. Especially if they struggle.

Bear the burden of reading to keep your child's love of books alive.

When reading for your child is the sensible approachIn our last post we discussed the importance of allowing children to read books that are too easy for them. If you missed it, you can check it out here. Today, we are going to explore another mistake we make when it comes to our child’s reading level.

The oldest of my sons was slow to read. He was also highly intelligent, had an expansive vocabulary, and loved learning. When he was in early elementary school I began checking out options for history and science. Mind you, this was before Homeschooling had really taken off, so my options were limited. A friend suggested I check out a popular Christian Textbook publisher. I was VERY disappointed in the material.

The history text was stories about community helpers; firemen, postal workers and police. It was cute and boring, so boring. The reason…the book was written for a 6 year old’s reading ability, and so the content had to be “dumbed down.” I couldn’t see my bright son being even slightly interested in the book.

My solution was to work on his reading everyday for about 20 minutes…and the rest of the time, I read to him. We explored all sorts of interesting people, concepts, places, and art. With me, standing in the gap, he was able to pursue information about anything that interested him. At the time the Ninja Turtles were huge, and so he poured over Art books about Michaelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, and DaVinci.

Tim was a sponge. He could sit for long periods with books, even when he couldn’t read them. He would come to me with questions that illustrations had sparked and ask me to read sections.

During these years of struggle with reading, I was determined to keep his love of learning and books alive. While he may have made halting progress with phonics, in every other subject he was leaping ahead. When his reading skills eventually caught up I knew he would have a strong foundation and mastery of words and concepts to build on.

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At the beginning of his 3rd grade year he was still sounding out most words, and reading quite slowly. Then, seemingly overnight (although it had been years of steady work) it clicked. Boy, did it click. By the end of 3rd grade he was reading at a 9th grade level.  When his reading skills synced up with all of the other learning he’d been doing he was capable of reading and understanding just about everything he picked up.

Even if your child is a whiz at reading, more than likely, in the early years, their comprehension will be greater than their reading ability. Don’t limit their science books to only those they can read on their own. Don’t limit their enjoyment of literature to graded readers with limited vocabulary. Read to your children all sorts of books! Their busy minds will love being fed a steady supply of fresh ideas, and their love of learning and books will continue to grow. They will want to become better readers because they will know, through you, the magic that books contain.

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Advice for getting the most from those Junior High Years

What you need to cover in each subject area

So Just what do your kids need to do in Junior High?

Great article on teaching junior high


In elementary school our children are learning the basic building blocks of education; reading, writing, and arithmetic. Their understanding of basic science concepts and vocabulary are growing, and  they are gaining a sense of the flow of history. Make this framework strong and solid so our children have a good base upon which to build advanced knowledge and wisdom.

In high school course schedules are basically set

In high school our children’s studies become more focused and intense. If they have that solid foundation they will be able to move, rather painlessly, into these more focused studies. Students at this age are expected to be able to work independently through material, to read, absorb, and analyze new information. By high school we should be past the ‘hand-feeding’ stage where a teacher is needed at every step. New concepts may well need explanations, but students have come to ‘own’ their education.

So, what about Jr. High?

Jr. High is a great opportunity to evaluate our child’s progress and to take 7th and 8th grade to fill in any gaps or weak points our child has. If we use a building analogy, in elementary school we are laying a solid foundation and getting the framing up. In Junior High we are making sure that all of that is solid and that the hidden systems, like electrical and plumbing all work seamlessly. If all of this is in place, then the finish work of High School will be solid, we won’t have to tear out walls to repair electrical connections that don’t quite connect.

I like to think of Junior High as an inspection stop. We have two years to make sure our child has all that they need to move on into the more advanced course work of high school. Of course, we will still be moving forward and adding new ideas, but we also have a bit of breathing room to evaluate and strengthen any weak areas.

So let’s examine each subject area.

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