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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

How has music been represented in artwork?

This online gallery allows you to explore the illustration of music and musical instruments in the MFA's varied collections. It highlights pieces that depict the beauty, the intimacy, and the delightful nature of music as well as the instruments featured in those pieces. In turn, the instruments themselves can be viewed as art objects. This gallery consists of artworks and objects spanning many countries over the centuries, showcasing many different styles of painting and sculpture. In addition to images, there are audio clips of music being played on the particular instruments found in the paintings. These samples of music are usually pieces that were composed in the same time period as the paintings, providing a fuller experience of the arts of that era. (NOTE: The audio clips are only available when viewing the gallery via "Individual Slide View," NOT during "Slideshow View." We apologize for the inconvenience.)

These artworks will guide you through the portrayal of musical instruments as small components of a larger scene as well as instruments serving as embodiments of greater ideas. Through the slideshow and attached materials, you will learn about the numerous purposes of depicting musical instruments in art.

Learning Goals

Teachers will:
•Feel comfortable using Museum objects as teaching tools
•Explore the relationship between art objects and the culture that produced them

Students will:
•Understand the role of the elements and principles of art in art-making (NVAS 2)
•See how art reflects the larger culture that produced it (NVAS 4) (NSHT 2G)
•Experience the learning value of close observation of objects and discussion
•Generate hypotheses based on observation and prior knowledge (NELAS 4, 12) (NSHT 3J, 5B)
•Begin to interpret works of art in the context of European history (NSHT 2G, 3B, 3E)
•Understand music and musical instruments in relation to different time periods in European history. (NMS 6, 8, 9)

Using this Resource

The content material in this online gallery is divided according to different themes in the use of music and musical instruments in art. Within each section are different lesson goals based on particular objects in the Museum's collection. Images of supplementary artworks that offer background information about the culture that produced them, as well as other relevant ideas, for the lesson goals are also included in order to facilitate a cohesive lesson. Clips of music are included with the images of the featured musical instruments, playing music composed in particular periods.

The text that accompanies each slide offers information about the artwork and "looking" questions. The last slide in each section of this gallery contains the lesson assignment. Discussion prompts, a sample detailed lesson plan and a curriculum map are also contained within the gallery as attached documents. To make further cultural connections, additional images from the collection at the Museum can be found on Educators Online.

•Social Studies teachers and students will be interested in what this gallery reveals about and how it will enhance the study of music and musical instruments in different European cultures during different time periods.

•Art teachers and students will be interested in the different methods, materials, and techniques employed by artists as well as the role of music and musical instruments in the artworks. The gallery can also serve as a useful introduction to different styles of art.

•English Language Arts teachers will be interested in using the images as prompts for creative writing, or make ties to poetry and literature.

•Music teachers will be interested in the music clips offered alongside images of the instruments being


  • Artwork

    Beauty for the Eye...

  • Artwork

    Rustic Dance After a...

  • Artwork

    The Hollingsworth Family

  • Artwork Comparison

    Family with Piano

  • Artwork Comparison

    Family Comparison

  • AbC

    Text

    Implied Music

  • AbC

    Text

    Lesson Goal 2

  • Artwork

    In the Loge

  • Artwork Comparison

    In the Loge Music

  • Artwork

    Shirabyoshi Dancer

  • Artwork Comparison

    Japanese Dance &...

  • AbC

    Text

    Music for Spectators

  • Artwork

    Little...

  • Artwork

    Arabesque over Right Leg

  • Artwork Comparison

    Ballet Music

  • Artwork

    Dance at Bougival

  • Artwork Comparison

    Dance Comparison

  • AbC

    Text

    Music in Religion

  • AbC

    Text

    Lesson Goal 3

  • Artwork

    Saint Cecilia

  • Artwork

    Saint Cecilia

  • Artwork Comparison

    St. Cecilia - Music

  • AbC

    Text

    Lesson Goal 1

  • Artwork Comparison

    St. Cecilia Comparison

  • Artwork

    Benzaiten, the...

  • Artwork Comparison

    Benzaiten & Lute

  • Artwork Comparison

    Benzaiten Pipa Music

  • Artwork Comparison

    St. Cecilia &...

  • Artwork

    The Virgin and Child...

  • Artwork Comparison

    Virgin and Child Music

  • Artwork Comparison

    Virgin and Child...

  • Artwork

    Virgin and Child...

  • Artwork

    Dormition of the Virgin

  • Artwork

    Prince on a terrace...

  • Artwork Comparison

    Lesson 3 Assignment

  • AbC

    Text

    Music for Knowledge &...

  • AbC

    Text

    Lesson Goal 4

  • Artwork

    Pair of menuki in the...

  • Artwork

    Parody of the Four...

  • Artwork Comparison

    Four Accomphishments...

  • Artwork

    Jan van Musschenbroek...

  • Artwork

    Music Lesson

  • Artwork Comparison

    Manet's Instrument

  • Artwork

    The Music Lesson

  • Artwork

    Twelfth-Night Feast

  • Artwork Comparison

    Music Lesson Comparison

  • Artwork

    Drinking cup...

  • Artwork

    Degas's Father...

  • Pages

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