Lesson Plans

Portrait of a Ruler

Lesson plan based on Hadrian

Create a full—length portrait of the Emperor Hadrian that conveys his role through attributes.

Skills and Focus: Art History, Hands-on

Subject Area: Fine Arts

Thematic Connection: Signs and Symbols

Grade Level: Middle School

Time Needed: 60 minutes


• Identify and define an attribute in a portrait.

• Determine which attributes in a full-length portrait might identify Hadrian as an ancient Roman emperor.

• Paint or draw a portrait of Hadrian that depicts these attributes.

• Understand how this bust of Hadrian conveys a story about life as an emperor in ancient Rome.

Instructional Materials Needed

Story: Portraits of Roman Emperors


Tempera paints or colored pencils

Brushes and small containers of water for rinsing brushes


Step 1: Artists of ancient Rome were admired in their own time and still are today for the realism of their portraiture. Elements that tell us about the subject of a portrait are called attributes. This sculpture is recognizable as Hadrian because he was known to have worn ringlets and a beard in the style of the Greek philosophers. Because his body is missing, we must imagine the other attributes that signify his role as a powerful emperor. Discuss as a class what these attributes might be.

Step 2: For each student (or team of students), print out a reproduction of the Art Institute's portrait head of Hadrian. Cut out the head around the edges and attach it with glue or tape to one of the short sides of a large rectangular sheet of white paper. Have students draw or paint the emperor's body in full length on the large paper, showing it in proper proportion to the cut-out of the head pasted onto the sheet. Working in either tempera paint or with colored pencils, students should complete full-length portraits, which should include a number of appropriate attributes. When students have completed their portraits, ask them to discuss the attributes they included and why.


This activity meets Illinois State Goal 26: Through creating and performing, understand how works of art are produced.

This activity meets Illinois State Goal 27: Understand the role of the arts in civilizations, past and present.

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