Pre-visit Activities

Pre-Visit Lesson:

Teacher planning: Read the overview information and be familiar with the vocabulary in the glossary.
Time required for lesson: 30-40 minutes
Technology needed: A way to project the digital images of the portraits for group viewing


  1. Introduce the lesson by saying:
    A portrait can take many forms, such as a painting, drawing, sculpture, or photograph that looks like someone.
    [Display the painting of Ariantje Coeymans Verplanck.] It can be small, or life-sized like this one. It can show just a face or a whole body. Portraits sometimes have details that tell us about the person in the painting. The subject is called the “sitter” even though s/he may not be sitting!

  2. This is a painting of Ariantje Coeymans Verplanck (1672­–1743), painted around 1718-1724. Using detective skills, let’s see what we can find out about this woman.

  3. Ask:
    1. What do you see? (clothing, background, accessories, expression)
    2. What do you notice about the way this woman is dressed? (hem and waist of dress and shoes have gold brocade, she lived in another period of time, old fashioned)
    3. Why do you think she holds a rose? What might the rose symbolize? (traditional symbol of love)
    4. Notice the corn necklace around her neck. Perhaps this represents the maize that grows on her land.(Corn is an American crop. Europeans were not familiar with it.)
    5. Look at the background of the painting. Sometimes the background tells us about the sitter as well. What do you see? (table draped in velvet and trimmed with gold fringe; Italian palace; perhaps a reference to her own impressive house)
    6. What kind of a mood is she in? Look at her eyes and mouth. (happy-she is smiling; confident-her eyes are bright and looking at the artist who is painting her)
    7. Based on your observations, who do you think this woman might be? (answers will vary)
    8. A portrait often celebrates a particular event, such as a wedding or birth. In the past, only wealthy people could afford to have their portraits painted. Ariantje Coeymans Verplanck was born (1672) in Albany in the colony of New York. Her father purchased a large tract of land on the Hudson River and divided it among his children. Women in New York were unable to own land at that time, but Ariantje was Dutch. Since Dutch custom allowed women to inherit land, own property, and engage in business transactions, she was included as an equal partner. She and her brother developed the Coeymans’ property including houses, barns, and mills. At the age of fifty-one, she married a man twenty-three years younger than she. This portrait was probably painted at the time of her wedding.

  4. Display the portrait of Pau de Wandelaer. Say: Look at this portrait of Pau de Wandelaer. Describe the objects you see in this painting.

  5. Ask:
    1. How old do you think this subject is?(between five and fifteen)
    2. Why do you think he is holding a goldfinch on his finger? (perhaps interested in science, nature)
    3. What flag flies from the yacht in the river? (British Union Jack flag)
    4. Look at his clothing. This is what boys who lived in the early 1700s wore.(homespun jerkin, homespun wool vest) Would you like to wear clothes like that?
    5. It is believed that Pau grew up to become a doctor. He studied in Boston and returned to Albany to practice medicine.
    6. Pretend you took a time machine back to the 1700s and met Pau on the river.
      1. What did you do with him on your visit?
      2. What games did you play?
      3. Where did he live?
      4. Describe his house.
      5. When it got dark, how did you light the house?
      6. Did he have pets or family members?
      7. What did you eat?
    7. Write a letter to a friend describing your amazing time-machine adventure. This can be an in-class activity or a homework assignment.