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Art theme: landscapes

The term 'landscape' is broad and encompasses seascapes, cityscapes and townscapes too. Historically, landscape painting has been associated with scenes of the natural world. Sometimes the landscape depicted contains no figures or shows human activity as secondary to the environment. The category has become looser over time and representation can range from accurate depictions of the area to much more abstracted depictions of the land and sea.

Contextual background for teachers

An Autumn Landscape with a View of Het Steen in the Early Morning (1636)
Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)

Medium: oil on oak
Dimensions: H 131.2 x W 229.2 cm

Rubens painted this panoramic landscape to hang proudly above the grand fireplace at his house, Het Steen. This painting is a personal celebration of the artist's life: Het Steen, on the left, and its sprawling estate, seen all around, were purchased on his retirement from diplomatic duties. This work, and its companion painting – The Rainbow Landscape, c.1636 – were painted for sheer pleasure.

How do we know how Rubens felt about his newly acquired land? What devices did he employ to show us how vast his territory was? Notice how we view the scene from an elevated position in order to take it all in – as though our lens is wide-angled.

People seem to be working in harmony with nature and the whole scene enjoys the warmth of the early morning sun. There may not be a physical rainbow present in this work, but do you think it borrows from a rainbow's colours?

How many different types of activity can you spot in the painting? If you look very carefully, you will see the artist with his new wife, Helena Fourment, far left. Perhaps the two magpies in the middle of the sky symbolically allude to the happy couple. Imagine you were a farm labourer in this landscape, how many different kinds of sounds could you distinguish?

Look, describe and discuss

Open a full-screen version of the zoomable image in a new window.

Ask your students to describe the artwork, encouraging them to simply say what they can see.

You can start by showing the whole image, and then use the zoom feature to explore details of the painting. Or you might like to start by using the zoom feature to show a detail from the image, and then zoom out to see more.

Encourage your students to look carefully – this is their superpower! It’s best to not give too much background information about the artwork at this stage, so students can develop their own ideas and opinions.

Nudge questions

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

  • How does the painter help us journey through this landscape, and what do we encounter on the way?
  • How would you feel if you were transported into this scene? Would it matter where you landed?
  • What's the weather like in this scene? What kind of clothes would you choose to wear? How do you know?
  • How would you describe the mood of this painting? What elements are helping to create the mood in this scene?

Questions from The Superpower of Looking Kit

Now we can start to explore the 'elements' of the painting.

Use The Superpower of Looking Kit to ask questions about the artwork.

For this artwork, you will focus on:

Ask your students to evidence their points:

  • where exactly are they looking when they make a statement?
  • can everybody see what they see?
  • slow down, take time to really look closely

You may like to introduce knowledge from the contextual background for teachers at this point.

Everyone learning

You can find out more about The Superpower of Looking® SEND/ASD/ALN approach on the Superpower homepage.

Now it's time to explore the artwork in different ways. This list of sensory activities encourages students to apply their learning and can suit a variety of learning needs.


  • Create Rubens's landscape in 3D as a class with small groups working on different parts of the painting – e.g. Rubens' house, the forest, the cows etc. What does this landscape look like when you lay it all out together on a table in your classroom?
  • Create a torn paper landscape using this PDF worksheet from National Museum Cardiff. What will students put in the foreground and background of their artworks?



  • Listen to Autumn from Vivaldi's Four Seasons (a set of violin concertos composed around 1718–20, about 100 years after this painting was created). Do students think that autumn is well depicted in this painting? Do students feel this music suits that time of year?



  • Get your students to feel twigs, leaves, flowers and feathers.



  • Each student chooses a figure in the painting. How will they move around the landscape? Will they creep quietly like the man stalking partridges? Or like the people in their fine clothes outside the grand house? Or perhaps even like the milkmaids, carrying their heavy pails?



  • Talk with a partner: would you like to explore this landscape? Where would you go? What would you do? Perhaps you'd like to climb a tree, cross the bridge or dip your toes in the stream!
  • Learn the Makaton sign or British Sign Language for 'tree'.

Final stage: review

Ask your students to:

  • share their sketchbooks in groups and discuss the 'elements' they have identified
  • choose an element/aspect they find most interesting about the artwork and record it in their sketchbooks
  • choose their own name/s for the title of the artwork
  • think of a question they would like to ask the artist



You have now completed this lesson resource on The Superpower of Looking.

There are more resources in this theme to try – have a look at the 'next lessons' section below.

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