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An Old Woman Cooking Eggs (1618)

by Diego Velázquez (1599–1660)

Medium: oil on canvas
Dimensions: H 100.5 x W 119.5 cm

This painting of everyday people is also a study of still life objects, with a special focus on eggs. In what ways do eggs relate to the everyday? What do the foods we eat say about us?

Velázquez uses light to distinguish between different textures; how many different materials can you find in this painting? How would you describe the mood in this scene and how does colour interact with light to create atmosphere?

Are the colours of the eggs repeated elsewhere? Does this tell us how important they are in the painting?

While we should focus on the utensils and the food in this composition, what do the figures tell us about eating together and generational relationships around cooking?

Stage 1: look, describe and discuss

An Old Woman Cooking Eggs

An Old Woman Cooking Eggs 1618

Diego Velázquez (1599–1660)

National Galleries of Scotland

Show your students this painting and ask them: Are they interested or not interested? Why?

Ask them to describe the figures and what’s going on in the foreground, background and around them.

Don't tell them too much about what the picture represents at this stage. Once you have interpreted an image, or been told what to see, it is difficult to look freshly and critically at it or appreciate each other's views.

Tip: in class, use the zoom feature on the image below to look closer at details. You can open a full-screen version by clicking here.



Stage 2: nudge questions

Now when looking at the painting, ask more specific ('nudge') questions:

  • How have the characters and identities of the people in the painting been expressed?
  • What are they doing at this particular moment in time? What are all the different objects on display for?
  • If you were transported into the painting, what might you be able to smell?
  • Are there any other clues or symbols that tell us something about the figures' personalities or identities?
  • How would you describe the mood of this painting? What elements are helping to create the mood in this scene?

Suggested activity: drawing from memory

Remove the painting from display. Whilst it's not visible, ask your students to redraw the basic elements of the painting from memory. Give them a set time in which to complete their drawing and make it quick!

Now display the picture again and ask your students to compare their drawing with the original. What have they remembered and what have they forgotten? Compare answers. Why do they think they have remembered certain features and not others?

Stage 3: Superpower Kit questions

Now we can start to explore the 'elements' of the painting. Use the Superpower Kit to ask questions about the work and spark a discussion.  

We'd suggest focusing on the following areas to help your students 'read' the image (click to open the relevant Superpower Kit section):

Figures – Expression and Gesture



Ask your students to evidence their points, e.g. where exactly are they looking when they make a statement? Can everybody see what they see?

Final stage: review

Ask your students: how interested are they in the image now? Why?

At this point, you may also want to give your students some time to record and review their observations in a sketchbook on their own or in pairs.


Comparison activity

Compare An Old Woman Cooking Eggs with Caravaggio's late sixteenth-century oil painting, Boy bitten by a Lizard

These paintings both feature objects presented in a 'still life' manner, but how 'still' is Caravaggio's painting compared with Velázquez's?

In order to support the discussion, you may wish to focus on the following areas of the Superpower Kit: Figures (Expression), Composition (e.g. movement) and Light.

Cross-curricular activities: Technology – Food / Art & Design

Extend into a food Technology lesson by discussing what meal the woman is preparing in An Old Woman Cooking Eggs:

  • What foods are featured?
  • What method is being used to cook them?
  • What technology / methods might we use now to do the same task?

Detail from 'An Old Woman Cooking Eggs'

Detail from 'An Old Woman Cooking Eggs'

If time and equipment allow, prepare a simple dish in class with one or more of the ingredients featured in the painting (cheese, eggs and/or onion).

If this isn't possible, why not focus on an egg-inspired Art & Design activity instead?

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