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Guard Your Heart, a devotion based on A Young Girl Reading by Jean Honore Fragonard

A Young Girl Reading wikimedia commons

I first saw this painting on a poster I bought my first year of teaching. I loved the painting, and I especially loved the Bible verse printed on the poster. I always hung it in my classroom no matter where we moved. The verse is from Proverbs 4:23.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

The word “wellspring” really doubles down on its meaning as a source of life. The word well, something we draw water from, comes from Old English, meaning “to bubble and roll.” Spring, also from Old English, means “to come out or up with speed and force.”20150330_112626

So the picture is of the heart as a source of life that bubbles-up with a forceful or continual supply. Is this verse talking about our physical hearts, whose beats send blood around our bodies and the physical life we have because of that?

No, it’s talking about our spiritual heart—the center of our being—our innermost thoughts and desires. And life is not the life that will end in death, but eternal life.

The Lord is most concerned about that heart, because it is the heart that the Holy Spirit must change for us to believe in Jesus and receive eternal life. He changes it from a heart of stone to one of flesh so our inner most thoughts and desires change course and spring up with love for God.

20170505_122045But, wait, there’s more. Notice that the verse in Proverbs is a command, “Guard your heart….” We don’t just guard something important once and then forget it. Did Smaug in The Hobbit stop guarding his treasure? No, he slept right on top of it, and it was just gold and jewels!


How much more should we keep on guarding the priceless treasure of a heart that has been bought with the precious blood of Christ and now belongs to God? 

In the Sermon on the Mount, where He tells us how to live as children of God, Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matt.:19-21.

Paul in Colossians 3:1 says “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”

In Fragonard’s painting the young girl is reading a book, which can be a help to guarding her heart or not, depending, of course, on what she chooses to read or “put into her heart.”

We all make many choices each day as to what we “put into our hearts.” And today there are more ways than ever to do that— a wide variety of electronic devices to keep up with numerous social media sites, to play games, to read books, and to watch movies and TV.

How do you decide what goes into your heart? How do you guard your heart so that it is a heart that can continually bubble up in a life that honors and serves God and overflows with love for Him and others?

The place to start is spending time daily reading the Bible. Psalm 1 compares a person who spends time reading and meditating on God’s word to, “a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.”

20140711_142654We also need to make wise choices about all the other things we read and view each day. In the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13) Jesus warns against letting the cares and wealth of the world choke out our faith, as weeds can choke up an untended spring or well, so it is no longer a wellspring of life.

In the comment section tell us how you and your family decide what books, websites, movies, and other media to spend time on.

Here’s one to start you off:   World, a Christian news magazine has reviews in every issue of music, movies, and adult and children’s books that are very helpful.

I hope you’ll let me know in the comments whether this new format is helpful, and tell others how this blog can help adults and children enjoy and appreciate great art from a Christian perspective—as well as make some of their own!

Be sure to visit my website to see the art workshops and other types of presentations I’m available to do! See the details at:

Next Post: Activities for Digging Deeper  (based on A Young Girl Reading)


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A Painting for Readers: A Young Girl Reading by Jean Honore Fragonard

Moments ago I could see Cheyenne Mountain and other mountains of Colorado’s Front Range stretching south into the distance. Then a blustery northwest wind swooped in with clouds and snow squalls, rubbing out the mountains as if with an artist’s gray eraser.

Soon the temperature dropped, the clouds settled in like a heavy slate roof, and I decided it was a good day to curl up in my favorite chair with hot cocoa and a good book.

In A Young Girl Reading by French artist, Jean Honore Fragonard (1732-1806), the subject is doing just that! Well, she doesn’t have hot cocoa, but her pinkie finger is curved as if she might have a cup of tea.

A Young Girl Reading
wikimedia commons

And while I opt for jeans and a fleecy blanket instead of a fancy dress, I do have a fluffy pillow!

The Artist

Fragonard lived in Paris most of his life. As a teenager he was apprenticed to Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, who was a master of still lifes and genre scenes of domestic life.

Fragonard later trained as a history painter in Paris and in Italy, but when he returned to Paris, he chose to do small works for private collectors. Many portray the courtly life of the aristocracy in the fluffy, cotton-candy-colored Rococo style.

Later in life Fragonard returned to Italy, and drawings from then show he still enjoyed working on genre scenes. A Young Girl Reading captures one of those everyday moments. In Paris, though, art styles had changed, and Fragonard died in 1806, mostly forgotten.

The Painting

Several things can help us understand artworks:

  1. Subject–what it’s about
  2. mood–what feelings we get from it
  3. composition— how the artist arranges shapes, lines, and colors to get us to notice the subject
  4. style and/or technique–in what manner the artist works

Artists have to learn to put all these together to create a satisfying whole. Nothing is there by chance, at least not in the artist’s opinion!!


  •  What is happening in this painting? Does the title fit the subject?
  •  Is the girl focused on the book or looking away—maybe daydreaming?


  •  We ask: Is the mood quiet or noisy?  busy or peaceful?  Does it fit the subject?
  •  I think most of us would say that the comfy pillow denotes relaxation. (Generals planning battles don’t sit with fluffy pillows!)
  • The yellows and reds also help create warmth and quiet.
  • How about the tiny book? Well, try holding a heavy book in that position for long. This way the book (part of the subject) stands out against that dark wall, which it wouldn’t in her lap. And how else would she show off her elegant tea-party gesture that perfectly fits her pretty dress?


  • Why is her dress highlighter-bright yellow against the dark wall!
  • Why is she centered?
  • And what is she sitting on, anyway?
  • Well, her central position and that bright yellow dress say, “Hey, look at me! I’m the subject.”
  • So we do, and Fragonard has succeeded in drawing our attention to his subject. Now we look more closely at her face, and think about her. How young is she? Is she wealthy or poor?

Style and/or Technique:

  • Are things in the painting finished and smooth, or can you see the brushwork?
  • Are all parts done with equal detail?
  • Fragonard painted quickly, with loose brushwork that he didn’t blend much. The girl’s face is fairly detailed, but the ribbons are sketchy, and the book’s printing is just some lines of paint. Some critics would have said that this was okay for quick oil studies, but not for finished works.
  • Notice the violet highlights on the girl’s face and in her hair and the rust colors of the shadows on the pillow. These unorthodox colors and the loose brushwork are reminiscent of Rembrandt and look ahead to the Impressionists, who were also accused of using funny colors and sketchy brushwork. Berthe Morisot, one of Impressionism’s women artists, was a grand niece of Fragonard, and Fragonard’s influence on Renoir’s paintings of women and children is clear.

Voila !!  Subject + mood + composition + artist style = better understanding and appreciation of a beautiful painting!

Oh, you’re still wondering what she’s sitting on? So am I! But whatever it is, its long horizontal armrest does have a purpose. In your comments you can tell us what you think she’s sitting on, and in the activity post I’ll tell you what the long horizontal line is for.

Art Terms in this post

  • Genre   this often means a type of literature, music, but is also used in art for art that depicts scenes of everyday life, usually done in a realistic manner.
  • Still Life/lifes   paintings of an arrangement of everyday objects, that can include everything from flowers to sports equipment! And, yes, in art the plural is still lifes not lives!!
  • Rococo art   an over-the-top decorative art style in the 1700s that used swirls and curls on everything from furniture to horses’ harnesses. Palaces were decorated with this style, and paintings often portray the elegant life of the nobility. Caution: some Rococo artwork contains nudity and celebrates immoral courtly behavior.

You haven’t forgotten that little pinkie finger and the big fluffy pillow, have you?

Good, because an upcoming post will give you activities based on this painting, including how to draw the hand and the pillow! So sign up to receive my posts so you won’t miss the upcoming devotion and art activities.

Announcement: new format!!

  1. First post: overview of the artwork and artist.
  2. Second post: devotional thoughts based on the artwork. Even if it isn’t specifically Christian, God is Lord of all creation, and we can find His loving care everywhere.
  3. Third post: digging deeper into art, with hands-on, research, and “think about it” activities in art, writing, history, etc. based on the artwork. These can be adapted for all ages.

I hope this new format will better fit your busy life. I’d love it if you’d share my blog with your friends, especially those who want to help children learn to love art.

Taken together, I pray that the combined posts on each artwork will come alive from a Christian perspective.

 My next post will be about how this painting can help remind us of the importance of our hearts to God! Sign up now!

 But wait!! Here’s a really BIG announcement!! I now have a website, and I’m open for business to speak or do workshops in person or by Skype for children and adults. See the details at:






Gospel Book Stolen by Vikings


Chi Rho page, Codex Aureus Wikimedia

Ealdorman Alfred and his wife Werburg lived in southern England not far from Canterbury in the mid 800s. It was a dangerous time, and they feared not only for their country and its people, but for Christianity itself.

Beginning in the late 700s and continuing for over 200 years, bands of Norsemen sailed southwest to spend the summer raiding England, Ireland, the Low Countries, and France. They ran their long ships up onto the sandy beaches of the coast and up navigable rivers to plunder towns and rich monasteries, then slipped away before any defense could be mounted. By the mid 800s some Viking bands, now interested in conquering and settling, had increased to hundreds of ships that even attacked Paris and London.

In 851 one of these large warbands attacked Canterbury, and then for the first time, didn’t leave with the fall storms. They overwintered on Thanet, a nearby island, and in 853 defeated an Anglo-Saxon army there. These were dark days as people were killed, and homes and crops destroyed. It was a dark time for Christianity, too, and Alfred and Werburg mourned as monasteries and their libraries were looted and burned. This godly husband and wife were especially concerned for a beautiful gospel book we now call the Golden Book or the Codex Aureus.

Experts believe the Codex Aureus was made around AD 750 either in Canterbury or by the nuns of the convent of Minster-in-Thanet, who also produced books for Boniface, the great English missionary to the Germans. When Boniface grew older, he wrote to the nuns asking them to write larger as his eyesight was failing and also to add more gold to impress the pagans.


undyed page, Codex Aureus, Wikimedia

The Codex Aureus is impressive. It has alternating undyed and purple-dyed parchment leaves, and the purple leaves are written in and heavily decorated with gold and silver. Its original cover is long lost, but a few covers that did survive show these were embellished with gold and precious gems.


purple-dyed page, Codex Aureus, Wikimedia

The Vikings were so impressed that they stole the Golden Book in a raid and held it for ransom. And that’s when Ealdorman Alfred and his wife, Werburg acted with great courage. I’ll let an inscription they added to the Golden Book tell what they did. It’s written in Old English above and below the decorations and Latin words on the Chi Rho page of the Gospel of Matthew:

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I, Earl Alfred, and my wife Werburg procured these books from the heathen invading army with our own money; the purchase was made with pure gold. And we did that for the love of God and for the benefit of our souls, and because neither of us wanted these holy works to remain any longer in heathen hands. And now we wish to present them to Christ Church [Canterbury] to God’s praise and glory and honour, and as thanksgiving for his sufferings, and for the use of the religious community which glorifies God daily in Christ Church…”

The monks and nuns who copied and embellished beautiful gospel books such as the Codex Aureus, looked on their work as a form of worship. And Irish and English missionaries used the books to evangelize Europe, including Scandinavia, in the centuries following the fall of Rome. Cassidorus, an early Italian monk, said these gospel books “preach[ed] with the pen.”

The Bible is so readily available to most of us today, that we may be tempted to take it for granted, but there have been many times throughout history when it was not so.

Let’s follow the example of Ealdorman Alfred and Werburg in holding God’s Word in reverence and teach our children to do the same. Alfred and Werburg knew that the Golden Book was not precious for its outward beauty but because in it is God’s Word, which is truly “more precious than gold, than much pure gold….” (Psalm 19)

Further Activities

For Children: After writing out a favorite verse/s on sturdy paper. (if needed, write out the verse for younger children), use markers, crayons, or  paints to decorate the words, letters and spaces around the verse/s. The artists who embellished gospel books didn’t usually illustrate the verses with pictures as we do today. They often used vines and flowers, geometric designs and bright colors to make God’s Word itself look beautiful.

Adults and/or Older Children: Investigate the later history of the Codex Aureus, which God continued to protect in its sometimes mysterious travels through the centuries. Today it is called the Stockholm Codex Aureus to distinguish it from similar codices. Here’s a link to get you started:

Or look up how intricate and expensive it was to produce the purple dye used in the Codex Aureus. Between its purple dye and its gold and silver, it must have been very costly to produce.

Please leave a comment and tell us what you and your family do to keep God’s Word “more precious than gold, than much pure gold….”








Under Construction

When I was teaching full time, it was often overwhelming to keep bulletin boards current, let alone creative! I especially disliked putting up those big cut out letters. I had them sorted alphabetically, but it took time to pull all the ones I needed. And how many times did I have to change the color scheme or go with random colors because I couldn’t find one last red “e” or a capital “T” that had to be blue?

Even worse was getting the letters spaced evenly on the board. I’d measure and figure and measure again. How wide is the fat “O” compared to a skinny “I”? No matter what, I’d still end up with letters allsquishedtogetherattheend and have to start over. So I avoided letters whenever I could. Pictures are worth a thousand words. Right?

Then there was bulletin board envy as I visited a colleague’s room. Where did she get the time and energy to make 20 hot air balloons, decorate them with each child’s picture and favorite things… and get the title, “Up, Up and Away! Our Class is Soaring High!” spaced just right??

I did do some very creative bulletin boards, but they took many, many hours, and who has that kind of time on a regular basis? In a teacher’s store I once saw a sign that said “Under Construction,”under-construction-clipart-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-9k5LRn-clipart and I thought that was the best idea since spring break. It was ideal for that time in early March when green St. Patrick’s Day shamrocks needed to replace red Valentine hearts, but there was no time between lunch duties and report cards. Of course, there was a danger–the temptation to leave that sign up through Easter and Memorial Day and Flag Day and… oh wait. Is it time for fall leaves and squirrels already?!!!!

You’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this! I feel like I need to put that “Under Construction” sign on my blog and even on my life right now. We retired from full-time ministry about a year ago, and I haven’t posted since! We are so thankful to be able to retire, but we’ve been struggling to figure out this new part of our path–praying and seeking God’s guidance on what ministries to get involved in, what church to attend (we’ve never had to do that before), and how two people, one a planner, the other a-spur-of-the-moment person, can handle time together, as in: “You want to visit the botanical gardens TODAY??? I’m sorry I’m going to the Y at 9, meeting _______ for lunch, and then I have a dentist appointment at 3. How about we put it on the calendar for next Thursday?”  Then… there’s our differing space and noise needs: one likes silence, while the other likes music and TV.


One major direction the Lord has moved us is even farther West–to Colorado, where we are closer to a part of our family. I never thought this Maine girl would move that far west, but I thought that about Oklahoma and Texas, too. And we enjoyed Oklahoma’s wide skies and fiery sunsets and Texas’ warm winters and now miss the churches we served and the friends we made in those places. It is such a blessing, though, to be here in Colorado,

and attend soccer games and plays and be in on some of the upcoming wedding preparations!

So just as bulletin boards need to change with the seasons, I need to be open to the seasonal changes that life brings. One thing that will never change, though, is the Lord’s loving kindness. He will continue to guide us through those changes.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?

Or where shall I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

If I take the wings of the morning

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there your hand shall lead me,

                           and your right hand shall hold me.                                                                                                                                 Psalm 139:7-10

Amidst the many changes, I am praying that the Lord will help me to continue my writing. I have had some devotions and stories published in adult and children’s magazines and have other things out there, including a children’s chapter book. Next month I am visiting a field research site to continue my research for a children’s nonfiction article. I’m excited to be able to go and see a scientist at work in the field!

And a fellow writer is working on a website for me, and I hope to use that to get back to speaking to groups about art and Christian history and doing some drawing and art workshops for homeschoolers and other adults and children.

Then there is this blog! Many of you have been so faithful to read it and have told me you’ve missed it, which I really appreciate. But the blog too, needs some construction work to stay current. The problem is I’m still looking for the Lord’s leading for how to reconstruct it. One day I think I should do more art projects for children. (Quite a few of you liked those). Another day I decide to do the Life of Christ through art. Sometimes I think I should chronicle this retirement adventure! I just don’t know yet

So until I know, I will leave my “Under Construction” sign up.under-construction-clipart-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-9k5LRn-clipart

Please pray with me for inspiration and not too much procrastination! And let me know if you have any suggestions.


A Girl With a Watering Can by Auguste Renoir

A Girl with a Watering Can, Auguste Renoir

A Girl with a Watering Can, Auguste Renoir

Most of us love flowers. At this time of year, stores are crowded with people looking for flowering plants for their gardens. And, of course, Mother’s Day, a big day for bouquets, is just ahead!

So this post is for you if you’d like an easy art project for children to do for Mother’s Day and would like to learn more about a group of artists who also loved flowers—the Impressionists!

They painted fields of wildflowers, flowery hats, and bouquets of roses. But they especially loved to paint in their gardens.

The Monet family in their Garden, Edouard Manet

The Monet family in their Garden, Edouard Manet

In this painting Manet was visiting Monet (yes, they are two different people!) and was so taken with the light in Monet’s garden that he began painting. Renoir arrived a little later and, borrowing paint and brushes, also painted the scene.

Gardening was very popular in France, and the Impressionists liked showing modern life. So their garden paintings also bloom with beautifully dressed women strolling, reclining on the grass, or sitting at tables in dappled sunlight. Children play in many of these paintings. Family members and friends were often the models.

You_press_the_button,_we_do_the_rest_(Kodak)The Impressionists liked the look of the quick, snapshot-type view they had learned from photography, and they would crop

The Place Clichy, Auguste Renoir

The Place Clichy, Auguste Renoir

their compositions in places that made the viewer feel a part of the scene, and give movement and spontaneity to it.

Most of all, gardens were ideal for the Impressionists’ light, colorful palette and their desire to capture the quickly-changing effects of light on colors. They worked quickly and applied paint in patches of unmixed colors, which worked well to give the impression of masses of flowers.

The Artist: RENOIR

the artist, Auguste Renoir

the artist, Auguste Renoir

Renoir enjoyed painting beautiful things such as flowers, women, and children. He loved life and wanted art to be “cheerful and pretty.” And no one captured carefree parties at outdoor cafes like Renoir.

The Swing, Auguste Renoir

The Swing, Auguste Renoir

His feathery brushstrokes also created the “impression” of dappled sunlight coming through the trees better than anyone.

At 14 Renoir had been apprenticed to a porcelain painter and there learned that colors looked brighter and lighter when painted on a white ground. When he switched to canvas, he continued to prime them with white or cream instead of using the traditional dark grounds.

Like the other Impressionists, Renoir used a limited number of colors and didn’t pre-mix these on his palette. Instead he mixed them on the canvas itself and applied them wet-in-wet.

Unlike the other Impressionists, Renoir thinned his colors when he did faces, allowing that white ground to show through. It makes his faces look translucent. In contrast, his flowers are often done with thick paint.


A Girl with a Watering Can, Auguste Renoir

A Girl with a Watering Can, Auguste Renoir

This is such an Impressionist painting! It’s in a garden, and it looks like someone just ran to get the camera to take this little girl’s picture. They were hurrying to get it quickly before she moved, so it’s a little out of focus. The dabs of paint become flowers only when you step back.

And it’s so Renoir—a pretty little girl in her best dress, smiling at the “camera”! We can imagine birds singing, and the scent of the flowers heavy in the sunshine. And someone saying,”Oh, this will be a great picture to send to Grandmother!”

Okay, after that first impression, look away and see how many of these questions you can answer!

  • What is the little girl holding (besides the watering can!)?
  • What color is her hair?
  • What color is her hair bow?
  • What color is her dress?
  • What are the two types of decorations on her dress?
  • What decoration is on her shoes?
  • What is she standing on?

Now let’s go back and see how carefully planned this painting really is! (You know Grandmother would pore over every detail!)

Notice how the figure of the little girl connects and unifies all the broad swaths of color behind her:  her head touches the back flower border; her dress and arms connect with the green lawn and the yellowish path; and her feet touch the curve of the rose bush area.

It’s unified but not static. Renoir uses those massive blocks of color, especially the green lawn and yellow path, to move your eye around the painting. All those color swaths follow the same curve back into the painting, taking your eye with them. They don’t go back far enough to take your attention away from the little girl, though. And, of course, the patches of red catch your attention and move your eye around!

But what is the focal point of the painting? What does Renoir want us to look at the most?

A Girl with a Watering Can, Auguste Renoir

A Girl with a Watering Can, Auguste Renoir

It’s the little girl’s face.  What draws your eye there? First of all, we are wired to attend to faces! But Renoir does things to nudge us in the right direction.

  • The little girl’s face and hair are lighter than, and stand out against, the surrounding grass.
  • Her dark blue dress contrasts with, and frames, her face.
  • Her red bow is the brightest area of red in the painting and draws our eye to her face.
  • Her reddish hair and red bow are complimentary  (opposites on a color wheel ) to green, so they have high contrast and give an almost shimmery look to her hair—very eye-catching!
  • Last, but not least, there’s a trail of buttons from her high-top shoes up the front of her dress to her face.

Devotional Thoughts

tomb of Catherine of Siena before altar of church in Rome

tomb of Catherine of Siena before altar of church in Rome

In the Middle Ages Christians went on long and dangerous trips to view the relics at the great Gothic churches of Europe. In34 Monasticism - CopyOthers entered monasteries and gave up everyday pleasures to spend their days in manual labor and prayer.

Some believed their very salvation depended on these things. Most did believe they had to do such extraordinary things in order to improve or grow in grace.

Thanks to the leaders of the Reformation, we know our salvation is based on faith in the atoning death of Christ for our sins.

But in many ways we still approach the growing in grace part like people of the Middle Ages.

We still often look to extraordinary or special events to help us grow.  We want instant growth from events such as retreats, conferences, concerts, and short-term missionary projects.

Don’t get me wrong! These are often good things, but special events are one shot deals that only come once in a while. They can’t produce steady growth, and not everyone can participate in them.

The Bible teaches that our daily growth in grace as Christians really depends on ordinary things that we can all do, and this painting illustrates these.

Our initial faith is like the seeds that produced the flowers in the painting. They have already been planted, but they can’t grow without something as ordinary as water from the little girl’s watering can.

Neither can our faith grow without what are often called the ordinary means of grace:

  • attending church to worship and hear God’s word  preached
  • taking part in the sacraments
  • regular times of personal Bible reading and prayer

Although they may not seem very exciting, these everyday practices that everyone can do are the water that helps us grow spiritually.

The painting also helps us understand our part and God’s part in this growth. While water is necessary for growth, it doesn’t cause the growth. God does. “… neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 1 Corinthians 3:7

So it is with our growth in grace—when we are, with God’s help, diligent to practice the ordinary and outward means of grace, watering the seeds planted by God, He blesses that effort, in an inward, supernatural, and mysterious way that we call grace. And the plants (the fruits of the spirit, Galatians 5:22) in our life grow stronger and more beautiful day by day.

Determine with God’s help to practice the ordinary means of grace. Make them habits. Good habits are fine to have!! And the Lord has promised to bless our most meager efforts.

An Art Project for Mother’s Day

Moms and Grandmothers, you’ll love it!

Supplies:  20160502_125357sturdy paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, cheap watercolor set, brushes


1. With a green crayon draw20160428_102200 curving stems as if coming from a narrow vase in the middle at the bottom of the paper. (See illustration) (I often draw the stems so that the bouquet isn’t too small)

2. With crayons of a variety of colors, draw the outlines of ‘flower’ 20160428_103005shapes (daisies, circles, spirals, etc.) among, and at the end of, the stems. Leave coloring them in to the next step—painting.

3. Now, just like the Impressionists, paint blobs of paint right over the crayon ‘flowers’. 20160428_104913 20160428_104910Blobs work because the wax of the crayons repels the water color and shows through. (Encourage children to use small amounts of water to mix paint. Otherwise the colors get pretty watery)

4. While the flowers dry, trace on another piece of paper around each child’s hands (have them spread their fingers apart a little). Include a few inches of their arms. 20160428_103747 (use colored paper or children may color these and add rings, watches, etc.)

5. Cut out the hands.

6. Glue the hands, fingers interlaced with thumbs up, at the bottom of the painting as if they are holding the bouquet! (the fingers interlace more easily if the hands come together at an angle)20160428_110827

Voila!    Write Happy Mother’s Day across the top and give to Mom or Grandma!

Other Things to Do

Visit art museums with Impressionist collections and see how many have flowers in them. Many American museums have at least a few, because Americans were among the first to buy their work. Mary Cassatt, an American Impressionist artist living in Paris, introduced many of her friends to Impressionist art and encouraged them to buy these works. At the time they were very reasonably priced!

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Parts of this post came from talks I have given for different groups, and I enjoy speaking to homeschoolers, women’s groups, and others on the topics of art and Christian history. If you’d be interested in my speaking for your group, contact me here.

The images in this blog are used for educational purposes only


The Annunciation by Fra Angelico

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

Florence was a busy and wealthy city in the Renaissance. An independent city-state, it was a major center for the weaving and dying of wool imported from Northern Europe and silk from home-grown Italian silkworms. Merchants made lots of money exporting their cloth all over Europe and had their own agents in most major cities. To finance their ventures many merchants also became bankers on a local, as well as international, level.

The Medici, one of these powerful families, used some of their great wealth to encourage and finance the work of a number of artists. That patronage, together with other factors, such as the rivalry among Italian city-states and the great interest in classical writings and art, helped fuel the Renaissance.

Florence produced many of the biggest names of the Renaissance: 20151107_123553Ghiberti (the bronze doors of the Baptistry), SAM_3630Brunelleschi ( the architect who finally figured out how to put a dome on the cathedral),

St. George, Donatello

St. George, Donatello

Donatello ( revolutionized sculpture with relaxed poses and realistic figures), and of course Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.



Today 1000s of tourists spill out of the Santa Maria Novella train station into a city that is still wealthy and busy. Many come for the art. Even off-season, there’s a line to get into the cathedral, and an even longer line to climb up into its iconic red-brick dome, which towers over everything else in town. Reservations are needed to get into Florence’s top art museums: the Uffizi is home to one of the best collections of Renaissance art, and Michelangelo’s David is the Accademia’s big prize. Even with a reservation, both museums are wall-to-wall people. One man actually rested his selfie-stick-mounted camera on Wes’ head to get a photo of a famous painting!

20151109_103452But Florence’s main streets and piazzas are busy, too. It’s a shopper’s paradise, with high-end fashions and home goods filling the stores, and merchandise overflowing into several big outdoor markets. Venders of leather products are everywhere, and it’s a toss-up which is stronger—the sales pitch, or the smell of the leather!



Tiny, expensive jewelry shops line the Ponte Vecchio.20151109_10020220151108_182541 They have thick, metal-studded wooden shutters, completely closing over the shops at night, probably just as they did back in Renaissance times. Back then, though, this bridge was home to butcher shops since it was so handy to just open a back window and dump the waste into the river. But the Medici grew tired of the smell on their way from palace to work, and goldsmiths took over.


The streets are busy all day, but even more at night. 20151107_17210820151107_184847SAM_3515Italians with babies in strollers and dogs on leashes, and tired tourists still snapping photos, throng the streets, walking, shopping, visiting, and dining in outdoor restaurants and enjoying gelato. Businesses stay open late, and crowds gather around street musicians and puppeteers. 20151108_17532320151116_115243People selling pastel-colored selfie sticks or little gizmos that light up when thrown into the air, thread their way through the crowds. It’s fun, but can become overwhelming.


The Artist and the Painting
A quiet place to rejuvenate and reflect is sometimes needed, and there is one in the Museum of San Marco that occupies what was once a Dominican monastery. Surrounding its own quiet cloister, it has some of the most beautiful art in Florence, but not as many people know about it.20151107_131112

In the 1430s Dominican monks took over this monastery that dated from a much earlier time and began renovations financed by Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder. Cosimo kept a cell here for times of retreat (I guess he got tired of the hustle and bustle, too!), 20151107_135641and near the end of the century, the reformer, Savonarola, was assigned as a teacher here. You can see their cells and studies.

20151107_132639As part of the renovation, one of the Dominicans, Fra Giovanni, soon known as Fra Angelico, painted frescoes of the life of Christ throughout the monastery and in each of the monks’ cells. Once only the monks could see these, but today everyone can wander through the quiet halls and look into each of the small cells. It’s startling to see a colorful fresco of the Nativity or the Baptism on its wall. Because of the plain surroundings, the frescoes stand out with moving clarity.



One large fresco, The Annunciation, greeted the monks, and now greets us, at the top of the stairs to the cells. The stairs turn a corner about three quarters of the way up so that you don’t see it until you’re right below it. Then it fills your eyes as you climb the rest of the way up.20151107_132113

This Annunciation is, I think, one of the most beautiful of all annunciation paintings. It depicts a moment of quiet serenity in a cloister not unlike the one just downstairs. The archangel, Gabriel, bows before Mary as he greets her and announces that she will bear the Christ Child. Mary’s hands are folded in submission to God’s will.

Gabriel and Mary stand out against the plain walls and floor of the cloister. But the more you look, the more the simplicity of the receding columns and arches, resulting in varying shapes of shadow and light, draw you in with their beauty and frame the quiet drama within.

As befitting an Archangel, Gabriel’s multi-colored, almost rainbow-like, wings are eye-catching, and the gold on them is repeated in the embroidery on his robe. The robe drapes in graceful folds that show rich shades and tints of pink.

That pink is repeated in just two other places—the floor of the cell behind Mary and her headband. That repetition allows our eyes to leave the heavenly being and come to rest upon the humble woman seated on a plain wooden stool. Mary’s clothing is also plain, but contrasting with her white robe is a dark blue mantle that frames her face and arms. Fra Angelico didn’t want you to miss her sweet expression and submissive gesture.

Behind Gabriel is a garden with delicate flowers and lush greenery. A walled garden is often used in annunciation paintings to symbolize Mary’s purity and virginity. It also reminds viewers of the Garden of Eden and what mankind lost when Adam and Eve sinned.

Some Devotional Thoughts
Fra Angelico was a Dominican monk who took his vows very seriously and eventually became prior of the monastery of San Marco. The Dominican order was founded, as were the Franciscans, when Europe was in transition from a mostly rural economy to a time of more trade and bigger cities. Traditional monasteries were self-contained communities, often in very rural areas, and, therefore, couldn’t easily help city dwellers.

Dominicans and Franciscans didn’t stay in their cloisters. They went out into the world to preach the gospel in a down-to-earth way and minister to people in need. They were very dedicated and effective, especially in the cities. During the years of the Black Death thousands of these friars died ministering to the sick.

When the San Marco friars returned at the end of a busy day, they passed through a quiet cloister, but then had many stairs to climb to reach their cells.

As they turned the corner and gazed up at the angel Gabriel, were they reminded of the vast splendor of God and His heaven?

When they looked at Mary, were they reminded of their own humble estate?

When they looked at the garden, were they reminded of the Garden of Eden and mankind’s fall into sin and separation from God?

When they looked at the cloister and thought of their own small cloister downstairs, did they long for a permanent rest from their labors, especially against their own and others’ sins?

Did they then think on the amazing love and grace God has given us fallen humans, in the gift of His Son?

Were they amazed anew by the miracle of God taking on human flesh and being born of a virgin to dwell among His people?

And did they praise God for opening the Way to return to a renewed and eternal garden of peace with God through faith in Christ’s perfect life, sacrificial death, and resurrection?

Most of us today can’t withdraw into a monastery to get away from the hustle and bustle of what has become a very materialistic holiday season. But I challenge you this month to find a quiet space to think on God’s splendor, your humble estate, your longing for that permanent rest Christ can give you from struggling with your own sin and a sinful world, and praise God for opening the Way through Christ back to the Garden.

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The images in this blog are used for educational purposes only

Praying Hands by Albrecht Durer

Albrecht_Dürer_-_Praying_Hands,_1508_-_Google_Art_ProjectI’m going to do something a little different for this post. There will still be information about the artist and the artwork but instead of a devotion, I’m going to show you a simple art project for children. It’s quick,and it’s fun. It will also help illustrate the meaning of the artwork, decorate your Thanksgiving table, and remind us all of our need for prayer, not just at Thanksgiving, but in all situations.

Durer, self-portrait

Durer, self-portrait

The Artist
Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) was born and lived in the German city of Nuremberg, which was an important center of trade, metalwork, and the new technology of printing. Durer’s father was an accomplished and prosperous goldsmith, but life was still hard. Germany was divided into lots of semi-independent states with many resulting wars. There were also military threats from outside, frequent famines from crop failures, and recurring outbreaks of the plague (2 in Durer’s lifetime). Durer was one of just 3 in his family of 18 children to reach adulthood.

Durer’s education was typical of sons of prosperous merchants or craftsmen. He had 3 years of school to learn to read and write, then was apprenticed to his father to learn the goldsmith’s trade. At 15 Durer switched his apprenticeship to a Nuremberg painter and designer of woodblocks for book illustration.

At 18 Durer traveled throughout Germany as a journeyman. He financed this by making and selling woodblock designs to book printers. Twice he traveled to Italy to study the art of men such as Raphael and da Vinci. Durer was one of the first northern artists to do this, and his work shows a mingling of the Northern artists’ careful observation of individual detail and the Italian artists’ concern with the rules of perspective and form.

Frederick the Wise

Frederick the Wise

Returning to Nuremberg, Durer became a famous and respected artist. He received many commissions, including from Frederick the Wise, who also supported Martin Luther.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Although a great painter, Durer was one of the first to make the major part of his income from woodblock prints and engravings, which were affordable by all. In these Durer used fine lines to produce life-like details and shading. One project, 15 large woodblock prints from the last book of the Bible, instantly became a bestseller, making Durer famous throughout Europe. Some were later used in Luther’s German New Testament.

Albrecht_Dürer_108, sea crabDurer continued to travel. Wherever he traveled, he studied and painted ordinary places and creatures with the interest of a naturalist. He painted crabs he saw in the fish markets of Venice and in the Netherlands tried to see and draw a beached whale. It is believed that he contracted malaria from that excursion, and later died from it.

Albrecht_Dürer_-_Praying_Hands,_1508_-_Google_Art_ProjectThe Artwork
The Praying Hands have become an enduring symbol of faith. They were done as a study for a large painting that was part of an altarpiece for a church. In the lower half of the altarpiece painting, the twelve apostles are praying at Jesus’ empty tomb. We know this painting only from a copy, because the original was destroyed by fire in 1729.

Some of Durer’s original studies of hands, robes, and heads, including The Praying Hands, also remain. The Praying Hands study was drawn with a brush on a greenish blue paper. They show careful observation, yes, but goe far beyond mere recording, to illustrate humble faith and trust in God.

Self-portrait_at_13_by_Albrecht_DürerDurer seems to have been fascinated all his life by hands and their expressive ability. His first self-portrait done at the age of 13 shows that interest. Perhaps as an artist, he realized more than most how wonderfully made the hand is, and what amazing tasks God has designed it to be able to do.

A sentimental, but completely false, legend about these hands (I don’t know where or when it started) says that they are the hands of an artist friend of Durer who worked to pay for Durer’s art education. The story goes on to say that when it was the friend’s turn to get an education, his hands were too roughened by manual labor to be able to use brush and pen.

Portrait of Durer's father

Portrait of Durer’s father

The truth is always much better! The facts of Durer’s artistic education are as I stated above. As for his spiritual education, he seems to have come from a devout Christian family. In his writings, Durer describes his father as a gentle, patient man, friendly to all and thankful to God, who daily told his children to, “love God and deal truly with our neighbours.”

Durer also states that his father was pleased with his son’s hard work and desire to learn. He must have, in addition, loved his son very much to allow him to pursue a calling as an artist instead of insisting he follow his father in the goldsmith’s trade.

As an adult, Durer followed Luther’s writings closely, often requesting copies of new pamphlets from Frederick the Wise’s secretary. When Luther was “kidnapped” Durer was in the Netherlands. For some time he, along with most others, thought the kidnapping was real and that Luther might be dead.

This quote from Durer’s journal shows his worry as well as his desire to understand the ways of God. “Oh God, if Luther be dead, who will henceforth expound to us the holy Gospel with such clearness? What might he not have written for us in the next ten or twenty years?”

This is the well-educated, hard-working, spiritually-seeking artist who loved to investigate and depict the simplest things of God’s creation, and shows us in The Praying Hands a wonderful symbol of our need for prayer.

The Art Project, Praying Hands
This project can be done very simply with crayons and in about 15 minutes while everyone is waiting for dinner to be ready. At the end I will show and explain an extra step that you can do if you wish. It’s a little messier, but fun if you’re game!
Materials: basics–brown, white, or Thanksgiving-motif paper lunch bags, scissors, pencils, a little glue, and crayons or markers. Add poster-type paint and a largish brush, if you want to do the extra step. And some paper towels!!

20151124_1442261. Place a folded paper bag flat on the table with the folded bottom of the bag facing up. Have the child place his or her hand flat on the bag with finger tips pointed toward the top of the bag and their wrist at the upper edge of the folded bag bottom.

2. With a pencil, trace around the child’s hand.

3. Keeping the bag folded, cut in from the sides of the bag (just above the folded bag bottom) to the child’s wrist. Then cut up and around the traced hand (through both thicknesses of the bag) and out to the bag’s other edge on the other side of the hand.20151124_152726

The child may then decorate or color the hands.


20151124_144928The extra step: before opening the bag, fold the two hands away from each other and the bag bottom. Spread a thin layer of paint on the child’s hands (too much paint just smears and doesn’t show the lines of the hand. If you’re not sure how much to use, have some scrap paper handy and do a couple trial prints)

20151124_145709Then help the child to make hand prints on what will be the inside or palm of their praying hands.

20151124_145718They need to hold their hand still and just press down gently.

They will also need to do each hand separately so thumbs and fingers match. (To cut down on the mess, as you finish printing with each of the child’s hands, fold a paper towel around and into it so they have the towel to hold until you get them to wherever you’ll wash up)

20151124_152705I like to do this additional step if possible because when children see their hand print, it’s a great time to talk to them about how wonderfully made they are and that they are so special to God that their finger prints are different from anyone else’s.

Last step: Whether you do the printing part or just the coloring, now open the bag. To form the praying hands, glue the tips of the fingers together. (just a little glue so you can still put things into the bottom of the bag)20151124_153112

Whichever way you do these, it’s fun and a great reminder of what Thanksgiving is all about!! At the Thanksgiving table guests may write prayer requests or things they are thankful for on slips of paper and put these in the bag.

May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with time to relax and remember the Lord’s love for you and His many blessings!

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The images in this blog are used for educational purposes only