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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.

Exploring Classical Art at the MFA: Images of Power

In late twentieth-century America, the “image” that individuals present to the world has become of primary importance. Politicians hire high-priced media consultants, and show-business celebrities undergo various forms of body-altering plastic surgery. The pull of fashion, whether in terms of hair-style, clothes, footgear, or automobiles, affects the consuming public of all ages. Throughout time, people have understood the value of being able to control the image they project, and this is the theme students will explore in this unit. How have different civilizations depicted the ideas or figures of great religious, political, or social power? What choices do artists make in deciding what particular aspect of power to depict? Is military and physical power most important, or spiritual or intellectual power? Or a combination of the two? This unit explores the various ways power has been depicted in the classical world, and encourages students to apply their observations to the world of today.

Through exploring Images of Power in the classroom and at the MFA, students can directly experience the world of the Greeks and Romans through the works of art they created. They will discover the power of artists to convey ideas about the character and position of the individuals they portrayed. In a time when images were much rarer than they are today, Greek and Roman artists developed their own approaches to creating portraits of powerful individuals. Students will analyze these approaches, and compare the images of power found in the classical world with the powerful images of today.


Identifying the symbols of power in Greek and Roman art.

Comparing the more idealized approach to the human figure favored by Greek artists with the more realistic approach of the Romans.

Considering how the visual elements of an image – the materials used, the scale, the setting, etc. – contribute to our sense of its power.


These themes support both the Common Core Standards and Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. By looking closely at these objects both in the online gallery and at the MFA, students can…

Read closely to determine what the text says [object shows] explicitly and to make logical inferences from it, as well as, cite specific textual [or visual] evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text [or object]. (CCSSI – College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading #1)

Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text [or object]. (CCSSI – College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading #6)

Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words. (CCSSI – College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading #7)

Analyze how two or more texts [or objects] address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors [or artists] take. (CCSSI – College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading #9)

[Work towards the ability to] Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts [objects] independently and proficiently. (CCSSI – College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading #10)

For further information on how exploring Classical Art at the MFA connects with the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, please see “Possible Connections to Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks” under the “Related Resources” tab.

Related Resources