After exploring different images and characters in the parades depicted in The Triumphs, children will make masks and have a parade of their own!
Intended Age GroupEarly childhood (ages 3-5)
Length of LessonOne 30 minute lesson
Standards AreaVisual Arts
Students will be able to:
- name at least three concepts from The Triumphs;
- identify at least three human figures in The Triumphs; and
- use their imaginations to make a mask depicting one of the concepts or characters.
- Warm-up: Have the children line up and parade around the room, playing follow the leader. You may want to play music they can march along to. You can lead or have children take turns leading the parade.
- Tell the children that you are going to look at a painting of a very different type of parade. Show them The Triumphs and, using the About the Art section, share any information about its history that you wish.
- With the painting projected on the wall, play a game of turn-around to get them looking closely at the painting. Have the children face away from the painting. Name a particular item you would like them to look for in the painting, such as animals, colors, people, plants, letters, wheels, and textures (smooth, scratchy, bumpy, etc.). When you say go, they are to turn around and raise their hands when they find that item. If you cannot project the image, divide the children into groups and provide each group with an enlarged photocopy of the image. Place a sheet of paper over the image between each item you call out. If you make a black and white copy, eliminate colors from your list of items.
- Talk about the characters, people, and animals in The Triumphs. Prompt the students with questions such as: Which character is your favorite? Which is your least favorite? Why? Which square is your favorite? Least favorite?
- Have the children select a character they would like to portray for their own parade. They can choose a person or an animal from one of the paintings.
- Distribute construction paper, colored pencils, crayons, or makers and allow the children time to decorate a mask that depicts the character they chose. Help the children cut a shape for their mask. When the children are finished, punch holes at the edges and tie yarn through the holes to secure the masks on their heads.
- Orchestrate a parade around the school or playground for the students to show off their creations.
- Construction paper
- Colored pencils, crayons, or washable markers
- Paper punch
- Optional: Marching music
- Yarn or string to secure masks on children’s heads
- About the Art section on The Triumphs of Love, Chastity, and Death and The Triumphs of Fame, Time, and Divinity
- One color copy of the paintings for every four children, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Visual Arts
- Invent and Discover to Create
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
Who Made It?
In Italy in the 1400s, art was a business like any other. People commissioned paintings from workshops, which were headed by master painters like Andrea Mantegna [mahn-TEN-ya] (1430–1506). Though it can be difficult to attribute paintings made in the workshop system to one artist, these paintings are attributed to Girolamo da Cremona.
We haven’t determined with certainty the original use of these panels, but one suggestion is that they adorned a piece of wedding furniture. The bride’s father or another male relative would have commissioned the paintings to decorate a cassone [kass-SO-nay], an elaborate chest for seating and storage of clothing, cloth, and jewelry. Cassoni (plural) often stood in bedrooms, where guests would be received, and fancy cassoni were intended to impress visitors with the family’s wealth. Paintings that were based on literary subjects, like these panels, were entertaining and also spoke well of the family’s education. Along with the message the paintings sent to visitors, they also reminded those who acquired such works how to live a Christian life. Other possibilities are that the panels decorated the sides of a bed platform, or that they might have adorned the walls of a Humanist’s studiolo (a scholar’s study or library).
What Inspired It?
Since wealthy patrons in the 1400s wanted paintings that would show off their aristocratic tastes, they liked to hire artists who were familiar with subjects inspired by ancient Greek and Roman literature and classical art of the past. The artist who painted these panels based them on a group of poems called “The Triumphs.” Though written by Italian poet Francesco Petrarch [fran-CHESS-co pet-TRARK] a century and a half earlier, his poems were still widely popular when these paintings were made. The poems allude to triumphal processions that passed through the Roman forum on their way to the Capitoline Hill, where the most sacred Roman temples were located. The processions consisted of marching men and prominent figures atop chariots pulled by four horses. The subject may have a dual significance in this case, as weddings of two powerful Renaissance families were also proclaimed “triumphs.”
These paintings can be read like comic strips, from left to right. They are not taken necessarily for face value, but rather for the allegorical meanings associated with their imagery. In the left-hand panel of the first painting, for example, Love rules over everyone—until in the second panel Chastity takes him prisoner. Chastity takes away Love’s bow and arrows and puts him in chains (see Cupid chained to the front of Chastity’s chariot in the middle panel). In the third panel, Death crushes everyone else under his wheels. But in the first panel of the second painting, Fame wins out over Death. Time, in the next panel, destroys Fame. And finally, Divinity triumphs over all. God sits on top of the last chariot. The underlying moral of the paintings is that, in the end, the only true hope for salvation is faith in God.
Love’s chariot is surrounded by the captives of love, among them the Roman gods Jupiter, god of light and sky, and Mercury, god of trade, profit, merchants, and travelers. Behind the chariot are classic poets of love, Virgil and Dante among them. Love, hence, conquers all.
Chastity wears a white dress and carries a palm for victory. Unicorns pulling the chariot symbolize innocence. Cupid is now defeated and bound. Below Cupid are the virtues of Honesty, Shame, Reason, Modesty, Perseverance, and Glory.
Death crushes all beneath his wheels. The landscape is barren. Someone’s crown has rolled into the foreground showing that even the powerful are not spared.
Fame holds the book of history. Around the chariot are heroes of Roman history. Also present is Judith, a biblical hero, holding the head of Holofernes [hall-oh-FAIR-knees], whom she killed to save Israel. Behind the chariot is a group of ancient philosophers led by Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras.
Father Time, who walks with the aid of a stick, is holding a “tau-cross” or “T” cross, alluding to the first letter of Theta, the word for God. He’s surrounded by old men in an arid landscape with the light of a setting sun.
God is surrounded by symbols of the four evangelists (Matthew = man/ angel, Mark = lion, Luke = ox, John = eagle). Red seraphim (the highest order of angels and fiery caretakers of God’s throne) flutter all around him, probably signaling divine inspiration. Around him are the apostles.
In each panel, compare the different beasts pulling the chariots, what each figure atop the chariot is holding, shapes and patterns on the chariots, trees and background scenery, and scene-framing rocks. Also note that God is the only seated figure.
To reinforce that these paintings mark the coming together of two powerful families, the artist included each family’s coat of arms. One probably belongs to the Gonzaga family, who at the time ruled the Duchy of Mantua where Mantegna’s workshop was based. Each coat of arms appears on a tower in the background—one in The Triumph of Chastity and one in The Triumph of Fame.
The landscape in the Chastity panel is very lush, green, and fertile looking, as opposed to the rocky barrenness in the neighboring Death panel. The variety of landscapes and the narrative detail within them helps set the tone in each scene. Deep landscape vistas also presented the opportunity for artists to demonstrate recent developments in conveying depth through perspective.