A Grave Digging Nun and Art History

Or the fascinating stories behind some famous works of art.

The girls and I love looking at works of art: paintings, drawings, sculptures… and finding out more about the stories behind them. We have used many wonderful art history books and websites. I’d like to share one that Charlotte, in particular, loves. She has bookmarked The Kahn Academy website and often browses their art history videos, on the Smarthistory section of this site. 

Each video is a conversation between  Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker about a particular work of art. They are only short, maybe 3 -5 minutes in length, but are packed full of interesting information. While we look at the artwork on screen, the two commentators point out details, give a little bit of background history, speculate possible meanings, describe artistic techniques…
Here’s a review I found on the site:
Dr. E. Makriyannis wrote::
The first time I came across Smarthistory.org was at the Webby Awards. What I really liked about the site was that it immediately engaged me. I wanted to explore it. I have always admired art, especially Byzantine Art and Renaissance Era. In each video and audio in Smarthistory, Beth and Steven, seemed to take me by the hand, in their calm yet enthusiastic manner, allowing me to join their conversation, to learn from them and achieve a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the art object described. I believe that every learner should have teachers like Beth and Steven.

There are 419 videos arranged by time, artist, style or theme.
We particularly enjoyed watching Jean-Francois Millet’s L’Angelus and The Gleaners. 

In the side-bar are some additional links if you’d like to find out more about the painting or the artist.
There are so many of our favourite artists represented on this site: Leonardo da Vinci, Turner, Mary Cassatt, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Caravaggio…
While I was looking for information to write this post, I stumbled across a very interesting video of Sir John Everett Millais’ painting The Vale of Rest. In the painting are two nuns in full habit. One particularly beautiful nun is sitting looking towards the viewer while the other nun, with her habit tucked up, digs a grave. I was intrigued and just had to watch the video immediately.
I then followed the next link to watch the commentary on Millais’ Marianna. I still have Christ in the House of His Parents and Orphelia to enjoy. Don’t you just love coming across such things unexpectedly? 
I wonder if your favourite artist is represented. If not, dip into the videos at random and discover someone new!

PS Perhaps you’d like to read my post Turning Famous Paintings into Jigsaw Puzzles.

Tags: ,

Related Posts

Previous Post Next Post


  1. Reply

    We studied Millet's The Sower, recently, using Flora Carpenter's books. I'll have to look up the Khan site – we haven't used it for art, yet. Music and art have such an effect on the soul, don't they? I was thinking, today, about how happy the arts and nature make me feel and how close to God. We're so lucky to be able to learn like this, with homeschooling, don't you think?

    Thanks or the links, again, Sue – this is such an inspiring blog:-)

    1. Reply


      I just googled Flora Carpenter. Are her books out of print and available as ebooks? I came across "Stories Pictures Tell" on Gutenberg.

      I am sure you(and your children!) will enjoy the art videos. If you have a spare ten minutes try one out.

      You said, "Music and art have such an effect on the soul." I agree! I never had the chance to study art and music at school. Now I am making up for it.

      I'm glad you are enjoying my posts. There is such a wealth of things to share. I have a long list of upcoming post ideas!!

Join in the conversation!

%d bloggers like this: