# The rediscovered church

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Art and designMathematicsPrimary EducationLower Secondary Education (GCSE)

This lesson contains 30 slides, with text slides.

Lesson duration is: 30 min

## Introduction

By studying the painting of a church in Nuenen, the class will find out how Vincent van Gogh created the illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface. They will learn about proportions and do arithmetic and measurement exercises based on the painting.

## Instructions

General learning objectives
The class will learn about proportions and artistic perspective through exercises in art appreciation, measurement, and arithmetic based on Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen
Time required
• Introduction: 10 minutes.
• Arithmetic and geometry exercises: 15 minutes.
• Final discussion: 5 minutes.
Preparation
Set out the materials
Materials
One ruler for every two students
Pen and paper
Optional variations
You can extend the lesson by having the students calculate how their distance from the picture affects their measurements.
At the end of the lesson, you can ask students to measure the height of the doorframe in the classroom. Then they can measure the height of the doorframe in proportion to their own height. They can use this information to calculate the height of the church door in the painting.
You can also add a drawing or painting assignment to the lesson, based on the idea of proportions. For example, the students could make landscape drawings that create the illusion of depth, by making the things in the foreground larger and the things in the background smaller.
You can shorten or simplify the lesson by leaving out the arithmetic exercises on slides 20 to 25.
Background information
After 14 years, two paintings by Vincent van Gogh – thought to be lost – were rediscovered. These paintings had been stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in 2002. One of these works was Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen (1884/85).
For more information about these paintings, see the story on the Van Gogh Museum website or the lesson 'Two stolen paintings'.

## Items in this lesson

#### Slide 1 -Slide

Tell the class: This painting of the church in the village of Nuenen has become world-famous. Does anyone know why?

Go on to the next slide, which gives two reasons.

Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, 1884-1885.
It was made by Vincent van Gogh.
It was stolen from the Van Gogh Museum (along with another painting) and was missing for 14 years. When the painting was rediscovered, it was big news.

#### Slide 3 -Slide

Tell the class: This is Vincent Van Gogh.

Question: What do you know about him?

Make sure the class at least knows that he is a famous Dutch painter from the 19th century. Summarize the class responses and go on to the next slide.

Self-Portrait as a Painter, 1886.

#### Slide 4 -Slide

Tell the class: Vincent painted this church especially for his mother Anna, who had broken her leg while getting off a train. Vincent hoped that the painting would cheer her up. It probably reminded his mother of his father, who worked in the church.

Question: Do you think this painting cheered up his mother?

#### Slide 5 -Slide

Continue: After Vincent finished the painting, he wrote a letter to his brother Theo. This letter included a sketch of the church. That was Vincent's way of showing Theo what he was painting. You can see the sketch here.

Sketch in a letter, february 1884.

#### Slide 6 -Slide

Continue: The sketch in the letter was made with ink, and the painting was made with oil paint. That's one big difference between the two.

Question: What other differences can you find?

Give the class some time to study the painting and respond to the question. Then go on to the next slide, which gives a few possible answers.

In the sketch, there is only one person in the foreground. In the painting, there are two groups of people.
The painting includes the sky and the clouds. The sketch does not.
The trees are bare in the sketch, but not in the painting.

#### Slide 7 -Slide

Discuss the differences.

Question: Which difference do you think is most important? And why?

#### Slide 8 -Slide

Tell the class: The Van Gogh Museum has discovered something special: after Vincent made the painting, he changed it. At first, the painting showed only one person, just like the sketch. Vincent later replaced this one person with a lot of people.

Question: Why do you think he did that?

Go on to the next slide to see a close-up view of the churchgoers in the foreground.

#### Slide 9 -Slide

Tell the class: Take a good look at the people coming out of the church. They're wearing dark clothing. Question: Can you guess why?

Vincent's father died soon after the painting was finished. The Van Gogh Museum believes that these people are wearing dark clothing because they are in mourning. So the painting shows Vincent's sadness about his father's death.

#### Slide 10 -Slide

Question: Can you see that the people in front are much larger than the people coming out of the church?

Assignment: Let's measure how much larger they are.

Have the students work in pairs for the measuring assignment on the next slide.

Measuring, part 1

• Decide who will be A and who will be B.
• A: Close one eye and stretch out your arm. Put your thumb and index finger around one of the people in front.
• B: Measure the distance between A's thumb and index finger with a ruler.
Write down the number of centimetres (cm).

TIP: Save all your measurements. You will need them later.

#### Slide 11 -Slide

Read the assignment aloud (or have someone else do it) and ask whether everyone understands it. Go on to the next slide to show the painting.

#### Slide 12 -Slide

Have the students do the measurement.

Measuring, part 2
• B: Close one eye and stretch out your arm. Put your thumb and index finger around one of the people coming out of the church.
• B: You will have to imagine their legs, which are hidden behind the hedge.
• A: Measure the distance between B's thumb and index finger with a ruler.
Write down the number of centimetres (cm).

TIP: Save all your measurements. You will need them later in the lesson.

#### Slide 13 -Slide

Read the assignment aloud (or have someone else do it) and ask whether everyone understands it.  Go on to the next slide to show the painting.

#### Slide 14 -Slide

Have the students do the measurement.

Measurement, part 3
• A: Close one eye and stretch out your arm. Put your thumb and index finger around the church door.
• A: You will have to imagine the bottom of the door, which is hidden behind the hedge.
• B: Measure the distance between A's thumb and index finger with a ruler. Write down the number of centimetres.

TIP: Save all your measurements. You'll need them later in the lesson.

#### Slide 15 -Slide

Read the assignment aloud (or have someone else do it) and ask whether everyone understands it.  Go on to the next slide to show the painting.

#### Slide 16 -Slide

Have the students do the measurement.

Discussion

• A and B: Discuss what you noticed during the
measurement exercise.

#### Slide 17 -Slide

Have the students briefly discuss what they noticed. Then ask for some of the results of the measurements.

Question: Why are there so many different results?

1. Measuring something with your thumb and index finger is not very accurate.
2. The students were standing at different distances from the painting.

#### Slide 18 -Slide

Question: Why did Vincent make the people in front larger than the people in back?

Answer: A painting is flat. By painting things larger in front and smaller in back, the painter makes it look as if there is space inside the painting.

These people are in the background.
These people are in the foreground.

#### Slide 19 -Slide

Explain: In a painting, we call the front the foreground. Things in the foreground seem close by. We call the back the background. Things in the background seem far away.

Question: Are the people coming out of the church in the foreground or in the background? What about the people in front?

Tell the class: You've just made some measurements. Now we'll do arithmetic with those measurements. You can work in pairs again.

Go to the next slide for the assignment.

Arithmetic, part 1

Find the difference in height, as a percentage, between the person in the background and the person in the foreground.

#### Slide 20 -Slide

Read the assignment aloud. Ask: Does everyone understand?

Now have the students discuss, in pairs, how they can calculate this percentage.

Go on to the next two slides to discuss how to find the solution, using a made-up example.

Step 1

To calculate the height of the person in back as a percentage of the other person's height:

• Divide the back person's height by the front person's.
• Multiply the result by 100 to make it a percentage.

Doe
dat getal x 100 om er procenten van te maken.

#### Slide 21 -Slide

The illustration shows a made-up example:

• Divide the back person's height by the front person's. 2.8/6.2 = 0.45.
• Multiply this figure by 100 to make it a percentage.
• 45 x 100 = 45. The result is 45%.
• The height of the person in back is 45% of the height of the person in front.
• 45% of 6.2 cm is 2.8 cm.
Step 2

Now calculate the difference in size between the person
in front and the person in back, as a percentage.
This
is the red line.

#### Slide 22 -Slide

The illustration shows a made-up example:

100% - 45% = 55%

The person in back is 55% shorter than the one in front.

#### Slide 23 -Slide

Continue: The next arithmetic assignment is also about the proportions in the painting. Take a good look at the door of the church. That's what this assignment is about.

Go on to the next slide for the assignment.

Arithmetic, part 2

Imagine the group of people in the foreground were standing next to the church. Then Vincent would have had to make the church much larger.

Calculate how large the church door
would have to be (in cm) if it were next to the people in front.

#### Slide 24 -Slide

Read the assignment aloud.

Ask: Does everyone understand?

Then have the students discuss, in pairs, how they can calculate this percentage.

Go on to the next slide to discuss the calculation.

#### Slide 25 -Slide

The illustration shows a made-up example:

5.9 cm x 100 = 590 cm.

590 cm / 45 = 13.1 cm.

#### Slide 26 -Slide

Tell the class: Making things larger in the foreground and smaller in the background creates depth.

Question: What else did Vincent do to create an impression of depth or space in the painting?

After the students respond, go on to the next slide, which gives some answers.

Overlapping forms.
Use of colour.
The horizon.

#### Slide 27 -Slide

Use of colour: The colours in the foreground are more intense. For example, look at the leaves on the trees and the hedge. The background colours are lighter: look at the sky and clouds.

The horizon: The horizon is the line where the ground meets the sky. Here, it isn't clear because of the trees.

Overlapping forms: The people cover part of the hedge, and the trees cover part of the church.

#### Slide 28 -Slide

Tell the class: 'Larger in front and smaller in back' is not the only rule for creating depth in a painting. But it is a very important one.

Question: What do you think would happen if you made the things in the foreground small and the things in the background large?

Discuss the question with the class and then go on to the next slide to see an example.

#### Slide 29 -Slide

Tell the class: Look, here the large people are in the background and the small ones are in the foreground. Is this how you thought it would look?

Discuss the results with the class.

Then go on to the next slide to see the two versions side by side.

X
Y

#### Slide 30 -Slide

Tell the class: Here you can see the two versions side by side. In version X, the people in the foreground look tiny, and the people in the background look gigantic. The church also looks much smaller in version X than in version Y.

Question: Which version do you prefer, and why?

Continue: It's important for a painter to use the right proportions.

Question: Who can explain why that's important?

You can end the lesson by discussing this question with the class.