Pictorial evidence in Crossroads: a meeting of nations

Pictorial evidence in Crossroads: a meeting of nations (Social Studies 9)

Much of the Crossroads textbook is filled with supporting paintings, drawings, and etchings. Although photography was not around to supplement history books until the mid-nineteenth century, which is around the end of the Crossroads chronological time frame, the textbook makes a fair attempt to use artworks and their study to help supplement student understanding of European daily life. For example, on page 31 of the text, there is a painting of King Charles I of England and his wife. The textbook asks what readers think the symbolism of the laurel wreath exchanged between them means. They are also asked to consider the perspective out of the window in the painting, and how it looks over a scene from a vantage point. Furthermore, there are symbols of wealth and power scattered behind the couple that the textbook highlights.

What I feel is lacking from this example and most of the book, however, is credit to the artist (Anthony Van Dyck). Interestingly, Van Dyck was commissioned to make this portrait after the last artist was fired. Perhaps students could be called to ask why? Clearly the royal family had a high standard for the way they were portrayed, which was very beneficial for them in hindsight as this painting has lasted so long throughout history. A teacher could ask how would students like to be portrayed in history? what kinds of symbolism or objects would they use in their portrait? This exercise, as simple as it may be, can help students to think about historiography and how history may be bent to serve the interests of those who make the decisions.

No artist is mentioned for this painting and many others throughout the book, except in a wall of text in the last few pages at the very end of the book (which I expect is an homage to copyright law). Although the textbook is right to help readers interpret the symbolism of the painting and even the symbolic perspective, there is no additional information about the painting beyond the subjects it depicts. There is also no information about why it was made or where it was displayed. Furthermore, one could ask why the crown and other symbols of status are only behind the King. Getting a little in-depth into a painting such as this can help students connect to the time period just that little bit more and feel like they have uncovered something interesting.

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