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Gold-Leaf Calligraphy

Students learn about Illuminated Manuscripts then create their own illuminated gold-leaf letter.

  • Grade 4
    Grade 5
    Grade 6
  • 60 to 90 Minutes
  • Directions

    1. In Medieval times (before the Renaissance, around 1400), most people did not know how to read. Their main sources of education and community involvement, outside of their families, were their churches and temples. Only a few wealthy or educated people could read and write, so religious ideas were communicated through pictures.
    2. One method of creating a picture that was especially awe-inspiring was to coat the background with a substance called gold leaf. Gold leaf is paper-thin sheets of gold attached to clay. It was used to surround a central painting, and reflected light beautifully. Gold leaf creates the illusion of light, and sets a glowing, ethereal mood. Examples of paintings that contain gold leaf are available in museums.
    3. Gold leaf was also used in collections of writings called Illuminated Manuscripts. The Illumination was actually a small illustration of the first letter of the first word in a paragraph. A complex little drawing was done around the letter to show the meaning of the word or idea.
    4. To create a own gold-leaf style illumination, have students think of words that describe a specific feeling or emotion. Make a list of these words, then think of images that the words make you think of, such as a smiling face for happiness or a rainy day for pensive. Students choose a favorite word.
    5. Have students look closely at different letter styles, or fonts, such as the type styles on a computer. They can also look up different lettering styles in a book on calligraphy.
    6. On construction paper, use Crayola® Markers to draw the first letter of the word. Color in the letter with a bold color.
    7. Use Crayola Fine Tip markers to draw a scene around the letter. Leave spaces in the drawing.
    8. Fill in the spaces with a gold Crayola Crayon for an awesome gold-leaf effect.
  • Standards

    LA: Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

    LA: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade level topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of experiences and ideas.

    VA: Select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of ideas.

    VA: Use subjects, themes, and symbols that demonstrate knowledge of contexts, values, and aesthetics that communicate intended meaning in artworks.

  • Adaptations

    Have students investigate samples of samples of gilded illuminations as they open this investigation. Discuss the intricacies in the illuminations and how the gold leaf enhances the picture.

    Students create gold-leaf name plates for their desks to use when visitors are in the classroom.

    Students make gold-leaf book plates for favorite books or for a book being given as a gift. Encourage students to leave an open line for the owner's name, the illuminate the book plate with illustrations. Cut out the book plate and glue it inside the book's cover.

    Students collaborate to create an Illuminated Alphabet. Illustrate each letter of the alphabet and use the pictures drawn as hints about the illuminated letter. Display the Illuminated Alphabet in the classroom.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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