Implementation of ‘Greek Canon’ (SOI-EU-77)

This learning scenario (LS) shows that the definition of beauty is very subjective (based on Europeana resources). Because this LS is built on achievements of literature, art and history, it is an interdisciplinary project.

How to define beauty?

Through Europeana and European Schoolnet, teachers are inspired by the resources shared by their peers. I have chosen to implement the Natasa Tram’s learning scenario on Greek Beauty Cannons. I thank her for inspiring me for this course on the definition of beauty.

Why such an interest? I teach teenagers who are often anxious about their physical appearance. They fear not being accepted and, worse, not being loved. None of them believes in the cliché of inner beauty. On the other hand, they can understand that beauty does not reside so much in the thing or person looked at as in the way we look at it.  This subjective way of understanding beauty is the result of a long journey through the centuries that literature and art history reflect.

Our first concern as a teacher is to motivate the students, to make them want to think. This theme seemed quite catchy to them, and the experience confirmed my intuition.

Which works to choose?

Two tales seemed to me to be entirely appropriate: Riquet à la Houppe by C. Perrault and La belle et la bête by P. Leprince de Beaumont. These stories illustrate the fact that the loving gaze transfigures the reality of the other: it is the toad who, kissed, becomes a prince…


First, the teacher conducts the students to observe that there is no link between objective beauty and feelings of love. Then, the teacher invites the students to work on the evolution of the criteria of beauty so that they can again measure their subjectivity. Thanks to this work, it becomes possible to relate literature and art history, which continually questions beauty.

Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Vermeer, perception of beauty
Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Vermeer

Subsequently, students will analyse significant paintings found on Europeana and will observe how the concept has evolved. If beauty is initially intended to be perfection, it must reflect the idea of divine perfection. But over the centuries, man has affirmed his rupture with the divine reference to affirm himself and create beauty to his measure, increasingly displaying his emotional dimension, surprising or even disturbing, eminently subjective.

This course has been designed for students between 13 and 17 years old. For older learners, it could conclude with other works: Cyrano de Bergerac (Edmond Rostand), Useless Beauty (Theophile Gauthier), The Portrait of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde), Death in Venice (Thomas Mann), Swann’s love (Marcel Proust: the hero falls madly in love with a “woman who was not his type”) or Aurélien (Louis Aragon: the great love story between Aurelian and Berenice begins with “the first time Aurelian saw Berenice, he found it ugly”).

Did you find this story of implementation interesting? Why don’t you read about the related learning scenario?

Greek Canon created by Nataša Tram

The featured image (Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Vermeer) used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana, provided by the Mauritshuis Museum. Public Domain Mark.

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