Art and RE: Cross-phase

Mark Williamson

Assemblies from the Gallery
By Margaret Cooling

The Bible through Art: from Genesis to Esther
By Margaret Cooling with Diane Walker and Jane Taylor

Religious and Moral Education Press in association with the National Gallery and the Stapleford Centre

In all mainstream religious traditions there is a strong and living connection between art and belief, but links in schools are rare. The few resources to help teachers build on this connection have been out of print for years. Enter Margaret Cooling.

Assemblies from the Gallery offers 24 assembly plans for the seven to 14 age range. Each assembly has a religious theme but is also explicitly related to a theme in human experience. All subjects are from the life of Jesus or reflect Christian belief and are based on paintings in the National Gallery.

Each plan forges a link between the narrative depicted or the symbolism contained in the painting and some aspect of the pupil's life. The unpromising "Jesse Tree" raises issues about personal identity and status and Tintoretto's "Christ Washing his Disciples' Feet" explores power as service. Those plans which are based mainly on the details of the painting, such as the first assembly on Ugolino de Nerio's "Betrayal", are more effective than others, such as the second assembly, which uses the painting as a starting point to develop the symbolism of the cup of suffering.

The book offers strong support for those leading collective worship. In addition to the superb acetates of the paintings there are ideas for drama, readings and music and bold, copiable line drawings. The plans are ideally suited to class or year group teaching but are also workable, with sound preparation, for the whole school. The suggested age range is a guide only; the subject matter and much of the material could be easily adapted for use across the secondary range.

The Bible through Art draws on Jewish and Christian artists from Renaissance to contemporary to provide 24 large, colour prints on Old Testament themes with detailed background notes, conversation points and activities supported by additional activity sheets. With its big-book format and imaginative translation of stories, this would be highly appropriate for the literacy hour.

Margaret Cooling is adroit at presenting the spiritual and moral strands that are found in most biblical stories. Turner's "The Fifth Plague of Egypt" captures the anger of God, which needs to be considered and discussed; Chagall's "Joshua" invites a study of the reflective dimension of other leaders.

It is good to see the author going beyond conventional and often stylised paintings to include interesting and lesser-known works such as the South Angolan John Muafangejo's linocut "Adam and Eva"; a sixth-century African Christian mosaic depicting Daniel and the lions; Clark Fitzgerald's metal sculpture "The Plumbline and the City", inspired by Amos; and an illuminated panel in a Jewish Book of Psalms from 15th-century Italy.

This excellent resource will greatly enrich the teaching of RE, particularly skill development at key stage 3, where pupils are helped to look for and interpret religious symbolism as well as search for meaning in the text itself.

Mark Williamson is general adviser for humanities and religious education in the London borough of Hounslow.

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