P6 - Jesus Through Art: Transfiguration

These activities appear in the book Jesus Through Art by Margaret Cooling by Religious and Moral Education Press.  The book is out of print.  Please advise if this book becomes in print again, and this section will be removed from the website.  The books Christianity Through Art and The Bible Through Art are still available from Religious and Moral Education Press.

Teacher's Notes 

The Transfiguration by Duccio, active 1278-1319 

Introducing the painting to pupils


Ask pupils to think about something which is special or precious to them.  What makes it special?  The Bible story behind this painting is about the disciples realizing Jesus was not just an ordinary man.

Background to the Painting 

It is often said that Duccio was the artist who bridged two styles - the Byzantine style, which was more abstract and symbolic, and the more natural, Italian style pioneered by Giotto. 

In the Bible story Jesus' clothes appear 'shining white', Duccio has depicted them using ultramarine and gold leaf, made from real gold coins.  These are expensive colours that imply importance and divinity.

The two paintings 'Jesus opens the Eyes of a Man born Blind' (see here ) and 'The Transfiguration' are hung next to each other (as in the original altarpiece), This position of the two paintings expresses several ideas: 

·To the disciples, Jesus looked very ordinary but he could do miracles, This confused them, 

·The blind man 'saw' or understood that Jesus was special because he had been healed by him.

·The disciples did not really understand how special Jesus was (Christians believe he was the Son of God) until the Transfiguration, when they saw a different Jesus. 

A Christian Understanding of the Biblical Story 

The Transfiguration is another story which supplies information about the identity of Jesus. The Jesus whom the disciples knew was a homeless ex-carpenter turned teacher. Jesus also had great authority and great powers. In this story, the disciples 'see' Jesus as the Son of God, for he appears in a shining form to Peter, John and James, his three closest disciples. On either side of Jesus are Moses and Elijah, two important figures from the past. Moses had led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. He had also passed on from God the Ten Commandments and other laws. Elijah represents the prophets - people such as Amos and Isaiah, Jeremiah and Jonah. Prophets were people who passed on God's messages about how he wanted people to live at the time, and about his plans for the future. The disciples would soon experience death of Jesus: they needed this reassurance that Jesus really was someone special. 

Conversation Points 

1) Wrap some precious items in different packages: ­good wrapping-paper, newspaper, etc. - and ask pupils to guess what is inside the parcels. For the disciples, working with Jesus was like having something precious in a newspaper wrapping. At the Transfiguration disciples glimpsed a different Jesus. Why do you think the disciples were afraid? After all, they had known Jesus for three years. 

2) If you met your teacher one evening at a hotel wearing a crown and surrounded by important people, would you think differently about him/her when he/she came into work on Monday morning looking quite ordinary? 

3) Why do you think Jesus let his close friends see this event but no one else, not even the rest of the disciples?

Activities 

1) Pupils can write an 'autocue' for retelling the story of the Transfiguration. Pupils have six cards on which they write key words, in the correct sequence, to remind the storyteller of the story as he/she retells it. Pupils can take it in turns to act as storyteller or prompt. 

2) Pupils can choose one of the disciples who witnessed the event and retell the story from his point of view. 

3) Ask pupils to imagine that they are teachers and are setting homework on the Transfiguration. They need to write three questions that will help their pupils explore the story: 

· Question 1 should be factual, for example ‘How many people witnessed this event?' 

· Question 2 should be about meaning, for example 'Why was being seen with Moses and Elijah important?' 

· Question 3 should help pupils to apply their knowledge, for example: 'Do we alter the way we think of a person when we see them in the company of important people?’ 

For further activities click here

For a sketch of Duccio's Transfiguration, click here

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