Over the past twelve months, thousands of local children and teachers have studied a Renaissance panel painting of Cupid and Psyche by Jacopo del Sellaio. A selection of their work is on display in the Inspire exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum from 10 December 2019 – 23 March 2020.

“Going to the Fitzwilliam really inspired me that art isn’t just a thing: its emotion- it shows how the painter feels, and that the museums are magical places. It gives people the chance to experience history and to make memories.”

– Matilda, aged 9, Cheveley C of E Primary School.

Why?

The chosen painting: The Story of Cupid and Psyche by Jacopo del Sellaio, Jacopo del (Italian, 1441/2-1493).

Inspire was developed in partnership with artist led charity AccessArt, and celebrates young people’s creativity at a time when there are widespread concerns over the decline of the arts subjects in schools. The 2016 NSEAD (National Society of Education in Art and Design) survey, found a significant decline in the number of art specialist teachers in primary schools, with 55% of subject coordinators rarely or never attending subject- specific training. Although 67% of art teachers stated they would like to attend museum training, only 25% were able to do so. Inspire provides this much needed training to develop teacher knowledge of art and design and to improve confidence developing cross-curricular creative projects taking inspiration from museum collections.

Remy and Jacob from Wheatfields Primary School discussing perspective, buildings and trees in the painting

Looking at objects is an excellent starting point for creative research and investigation. The Fitzwilliam Museum’s long-established schools and teachers programme, encourages students and teachers to look deeply and thoughtfully at objects and images, and to respond imaginatively, though thinking, talking, and making together.

Getting started

We wrote to every headteacher in Cambridgeshire inviting schools to take part in the project. In early 2019, 68 teachers from 40 schools participated in Inspire training sessions led by museum educators, artists from AccessArt and conservation students from the Hamilton Kerr Institute. Feedback from teachers demonstrated that they appreciated the opportunity to learn new approaches to working with pictures, to try out new art materials and techniques. They also enjoyed networking with other, like minded professionals.

Teacher training event

‘I enjoyed trying out new skills and thinking of ways we could integrate these and link to our classroom setting. I enjoyed the guided tour and explanation of the painting, the close-looking and ideas on how to study paintings.’

‘I gained a sense of renewed hope that there are art initiatives taking place for schools. Excitement that this one is linked to our nearby Fitzwilliam Museum.”

– Feedback from teachers attending CPD training event

Following the training sessions teachers returned to their schools to plan and deliver their own creative projects, with the support of online resources and the possibility of booking a visit to the museum with their class.

Looking

Teachers were encouraged to begin the project by spending time looking carefully and closely at the painting with their pupils. Only 17 schools visited the museum, and we were initially concerned that many were finding it difficult to fit the project into the busy curriculum. However, upon contacting the schools we realized that many had decided to involve the whole school in the project, or in one case, were working across a multi academy trust which made visiting the museum logistically impossible!

Some schools sent small groups of students and teachers to visit the picture at the museum, who then shared the project back at school though, newsletters, assemblies and meetings using reproductions of the painting and our digital learning resources.

Making and trying things out

We were delighted that 32 schools submitted work for the exhibition and we were incredibly impressed by the high quality of the submissions. Teachers and students challenged themselves to test ideas, materials and processes as part of the project to make something new.

Some retold the story through drama or role-play, like these Reception pupils from Thriplow Primary School who re-created Psyche and her sisters in clay and made their own natural landscapes.

Fitzy Peters © Martin Bond

An art club from St Peters C of E Junior School in Wisbech were struck by Psyche’s resilience over the course of the story and designed and made her a denim dress to reflect this. Children from Wilburton Primary School made short animations on iPads exploring different themes from the painting.

Landscape from Willingham Primary School

Others, such as Willingham Primary School were fascinated by the materials Sellaio had used and studied Renaissance art. They then mixed their own paints with egg yolk and painted landscapes of their own on wooden panels.

Working together

Teachers explored the painting in many different and creative ways in which in different ways with pupils of all ages, providing opportunities for children to take the lead in their own learning and follow their own lines of enquiry. We had several fantastic collaborative pieces such as the 3D Bower from Kings Hedges Primary School to break Psyche’s fall from the hill and pupils from different classes at Heritage School to create wonderful Renaissance bedrooms.

Kings Hedges whole school collaborative piece: Psyche’s Bower

Challenges

Schools needed more time to work on the project in between the CPD sessions and submission dates. Running the training in the Autumn term would allow the project to fit it into curriculum plans more easily. There was also a few teachers who had left schools throughout the year, and so were not able to pass on the training to other colleagues to allow them to take part. Schools that could not manage to take part this year, was that they would love to be part of future projects.

It was incredibly difficult to select work from so many schools and pupils, all of whom had worked so hard on the project. In the future, we would like to have the time and space to work more closely with schools to ensure that we are able to display work from every participating school. We have several artworks ‘popping up’ in other locations in the museum for the Inspire exhibition which has enabled us to display them, but next time we would like more space to display children’s work.

Next steps

Guests at the opening event enjoying seeing their work on display (C) Martin Bond

We had a wonderful opening celebration in early December where teachers, children and families were proud and excited to see their work on display.

The exhibition marks the launch of the next phase of Inspire. Over the course of the exhibition we will run further training sessions for teachers and invite participants to celebrate and share their work with us. We hope to further develop a community of dedicated and talented artist teachers. Together we are committed to ensuring that all children have access to art and culture and much needed time and space to look, think and create.

The Inspire 2020 exhibition runs until 22 March.

You can find out more about the project on our Inspire project pages. We have an exciting selection of events planned for children, teens and adults to compliment the Inspire exhibition. Please see the Fitzwilliam Museum’s website for details.