Lesson Plan: Analyzing Messages Conveyed in Visual Images

Download the Lesson Plan



Prepare to teach this activity by reviewing the special feature, Dwarfs in the Arts: Diego Velázquez

1. Divide the class into small groups or pairs that will work together to analyze two portrait paintings:

Queen Henrietta Maria with Sir Jeffrey Hudson (c. 1633)
By Sir Anthony van Dyck
See: www.nga.gov/cgi-bin/pimage?41378+0+0+gg4243
Note: Jeffrey Hudson was a dwarf who belonged to the court of Queen Henrietta Maria of England, wife of Charles I.

The Dwarf Sebastian de Morra (c. 1645)

By Diego Velázquez
See: www.artchive.com/artchive/V/velazquez/sdemorra.jpg.html
Note: Sebastian de Morra was a dwarf attendant in the court of Philip IV of Spain.

2. For each piece of art, have students complete the following steps:

  • Create a list of objects or visual information in the painting. This should be an inventory done without any interpretation or reaction to the painting.
  • Examine specific artistic elements:
  • Color: What role does color play in this work? How would the painting change if different colors were used?
  • Composition: How are elements in the painting arranged? Is there a focal point? How do the parts of the painting relate to one another?
  • Light and Contrast: How is light used in the painting to create a sense of space, provide emphasis or set the mood?
  • Interpret the meaning of the painting. Considering the observations already made, what do you think the artist intended to express? What can we infer about the people featured in these portraits?

3. Discuss student analysis of the paintings. Point out that while both works depict dwarfs from royal courts, the artists have portrayed them very differently. How are dwarfs, or "little people" depicted in modern visual images, such as in movies and on TV? What is the impact of these portrayals on little people and on society as a whole?

4. Expand the discussion to consider how media representations also shape our ideas about other kinds of people (i.e., those from different races, foreign cultures, other socioeconomic classes, etc.). In turn, how might a society's ideas about various kinds of people influence media content?


No Bigger Than a Minute: Performing and Representing
This collection of video clips provides further insights on how dwarfs are represented in the arts.

"Big Enough": What is Dwarfism?
Become better informed about dwarfism by learning more about the medical conditions that cause short stature.

Simple Steps to Reading a Painting: A Teacher Resource Guide (PDF file)
This teaching primer gives additional details for how to analyze and interpret a painting.


These standards are drawn from "Content Knowledge," a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning)

Arts and Communications
Standard 2: Knows and applies appropriate criteria to arts and communication products.

Standard 5: Knows a range of arts and communication works from historical and cultural periods

Language Arts
Standard 10: Understands the characteristics and components of the media.

Visual Arts
Standard 3: Knows a range of subject matters, symbols, and potential ideas in the visual arts.

Standard 5: Understands the characteristics and merits of one's own artwork and the artwork of others.

Source: "Content Knowledge" by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning)