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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.

Developing Writing with Dutch Genre Paintings

This online gallery supports the Museum of Fine Arts exhibition Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the age of Rembrandt and Vermeer October 11, 2015-January 18, 2015.

Developing Writing with Dutch Genre Painting

The details and action within Dutch genre painting lend themselves to developing writing skills. Some 17th century Dutch genre paintings reveal the nuances of reality while other stories illustrate power and wealth. Some catch a moment in the day, almost photographic. Within each of the paintings, politics, social classes intermingle to reveal a multilayered and sensuous story.

Paintings became more commonplace across Dutch society. Once reserved for the wealthy or the church, the middle class also purchased landscapes, portraits, and genre paintings to hang in their homes.  Genre paintings became popular between 1600-1650. They showed a broad sense of what Netherlands looked like and felt life from merry tavern scenes to quiet domestic interiors. Genre comes from the French and means type or variety. Today, it classifies types of paintings, such as landscapes or history paintings.

This lesson uses multiple genre paintings to illustrate a variety of writing skills including sensory words, dialogue, onomatopoetic words, and story outlines. It can be adapted for a variety of grade levels and to the needs of individual writers.



Learning goals:

In exploring this lesson, students will:

-Discover depictions of three distinct social classes within Dutch society and the distribution of visual wealth between them

-A variety of 17th century jobs and occupations

 -Learn political and social concerns within the cities of Haarlem and Amsterdam

- Explore detailed accounts of 17th century Dutch life

This discovery will require students to:

-Look closely at the compositions and make observations based on visual evidence. 

-Make connections between the visual art and the history that encompasses its creation

-Develop written accounts of visual art that include sensory details, dialogue, and narratives


Using this resource: 

·      History teachers and students will be interested in the 17th century Dutch history

·      English teachers and students will be interested in the sensory detail imbedded within paintings, which could then be translated into writing

·      English teachers and students will be interested in using the visual images as story starters.

·      Visual Art teachers and students will be interested in the composition of the works, layering details from the background to the foreground

The objects in this lesson are just the beginning. We encourage you to explore the Museum’s online collection through this web source—or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries—to look for other objects that will provide further insights into this exhibition.

Sources:  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Painting in the Dutch Golden Age: A profile of the Seventeenth Century –National Gallery of Art

For sample related classroom activities, download the PDFs under Related Resources.




Related Resources