Leonardo's enigmatic Mona Lisa portrait, painted in the
1500's, coupled with numerous researched museum links served as the
cultural catalyst for an ongoing evolving inner city
Bronx high school student web research project.
Begun in 1997, as part of the ThinkQuest Challenge, for
developing a collaborative web project focused around
a particular problem construct "Why is the Mona Lisa
Smiling?" in partnership with peers from Borlange Sweden
initially reacted, responded and reflected on Lillian
Schwartz's research about the identity of Mona Lisa.
Schwartz's contention, that Mona was Leonardo himself, led
the students to include museum resources as part of their
scientific inquiry into the validity of Schwartz's
The inner city Bronx HS students who created the web site had little if
any personal experiences visiting actual Museum Resources in culturally
rich NYC; but through the research process involved in investigating
Schwartz's theory, students became online virtual museum visitors,
Among the Museum Web Sites they toured and integrated
within the project were: Getty Museum, Boston Science
Museum, Science and Technology Museum of Milan, The
Vatican, The Exploratorium, Franklin Institute and The Smithsonian
In turn, the students museum explorations enriched and expanded their
initial Why is the Mona Lisa Project, which grew to include further
aspects of Leonardo's talents visions and Inventions and connections to
other artists and scientists. These were
identified in the Museum collection through virtual museum visits.
Indeed in May 2000, when Microsoft issued its NYC Beyond
2000 Challenge, the Bronx HS Students confidently selected the arts
arena as the content area for their ArtiFAQ 2100 Web Project. They were
able to use museum web resource to address the challenge by using
museums to look back in Art History. The then built on the achievements
of art history to predict art social trends 2100. These predictions are
presented in the form of Digital Art Creations.
Mona Makes Museum Magic Happen
The multiple ways in which the use of museum web resources have contributed
to Learning About Leonardo's success.
Museum web resources have played a dual role in the design development and
expansion of our project
The project began in 1997 at the behest of the ThinkQuest organization which
encourages students under the advisement and coaching of dedicated teacher
educators, to develop web site based on a problem construct. Inspired by the
seminal work in the field of Bell Labs researcher Lillian Schwartz, students from
the Bronx the JFK High School a zoned inner city Public High School, adjacent to the
Marble Hill projects, selected the issue of Mona Lisa's identity as the core
governing principle of their initial project design.
Within this context, the project's initial design of the site features and layout was
informed by the key museum resource, The Boston Museum of Science.
The design elements of this resource which the students integrated into the
design of their web site were:
Parchment colored backgrounds and the ease of navigation were the key elements
that served as a catalyst for the students to developing the pages.
The warm color scheme was perfect for the content and visitor appreciation of the web site
content. The background color scheme gave it an apt historical backdrop.
Interestingly, despite the significance of Leonardo's achievments and the
massive print resources in real museum collections, there was a paucity of
museum resources available for student study analysis and reflection.
At the time of the sites inception, The Seattle Museum and information about Bill
Gate's Codex were just being placed on the web. The development of our
project was contiguous with these museum resources.
We were in at the beginning when Mona's Magic touch was making
itself known on the web.
The original question construct as posed by the students -- Why is the Mona
Lisa Smiling? became the central developing theme of the original ThinkQuest
The interest it generated from a multisector community of educators,
researchers in the field, academics, art historians, teacher educators K-12,
schools of education, librarians and museums; engendered and suggested
various web resources for our project to link to and collaborate with.
Among the principle project milestone collaborations was Japan's
Miho Museum and peer high school student in Kyoto Japan. Ovation TV
ArtsZone after visiting the site, invited our students to be part of a multicultural
dialogue exchange with their peers from Kyoto. The focus of this exchange was
the design of the Museum in the Mountain. My students posed questions about
the Miho Museum. These were then translated and were responded to by the
Among the products of this museum design centered partnership was a gallery
of student designs. This museum international project extended itself into the
Social Studies content area. A Social Studies teacher teamed with our art class
to generate additional questions which expanded the project's scope into global
issues and multicultural concerns.
A second Ovation initiative centered on the Codex, which can be found online at
the Seattle Art Museum, was brought to our site when our
students compiled scientific observations in the format of Leonardo's Notebooks.
Their work was added to our site and featured in ArtsZone.
The Codex also provides us with the notes and drawings of Leonardo's
inventions which establishes his credentials as a futurist circa 1500. Students
reviewed his writings and drawings and recognized the connection between
Leonardo and Arthur C. Clarke. They developed text and image pages
articulating this connection which was published by Artszone.
Another footnote to Leonardo's legacy lies in the tale of Leonardo's Bronze
Horse. The Leonardo Horse was meant to be realized as a sculpture in his time.
However, the bronze needed to realize the project was reallocated to the war
effort. Leonardo's clay model for the horse was used for target practice
before it could be constructed. Not until 1997 was the funding for this
dream supplied and realized by Charles Dent and the Tallix Foundry. As a result of visiting
our site, the Leonardo Horse Inc invited the JFK design team to its unveiling in Beacon NY. We
were there to document and record this event. It resulted in a new page on our
site and a wonderful hands-on student centered web base commemoration of a Leonardo milestone.
The development and expansion of our site involves
acquring linkages to museum resources, within the expanse of international
Leonardo holdings and collections.
Linkages were sought and granted from the following Museums: Boston Science
Museum, Seattle Art Museum, Franklin Science Museum, British Columbia
Leonardo Exhibit, Museum of Science and Technology of Milan and the Science
and Technology Museum of Israel.
By far, the most difficult link to secure was
that from the Vatican Museum. The aquiring of this link required the convening
of a committee of four Italian Professors to certify our site
to the Office of the Holy See.
These linkage authenticated our Leonardo research and validated his musical
score which is presented on the site.
Conversely our site has been the source of concentration by museums who,after
reviewing the site has used the site as one of their exhibits. Imagine how our
inner city Bronx high school students felt when their work is cited and included in
the internationally recognized Institutions such as the Getty Center Digital
Experience, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts-Arts Edge and the
Smithsonian. Indeed, the 15 year old computers that were used to create the site
belong in the Smithsonian as well!
After their selection at the Digital Experience at the Getty Museum, the student's
interest was peaked as to how and why their high school site was selected. As a result of
our Inquires to the Getty staff, a letter arrived explaining the criteria behind our
Read Letter from Getty:
This original Leonardo project with its study as Leonado as futurist inspired our
students to use Leonardo's creative impetus as the governing design principle
for our response to the Microsoft Challenge.
The students were asked to predict art trends 2100. Given their expertise and
study of Leonardo whose work certainly forecasts inventions of the 20th century;
they decided to use art history past styles and motivations as a means by which
to predict events and environments of 2100. It was exhilarating to see how they
transferred knowledge from the Mona Lisa project experience to the research
involved in this new project component.
As I, an experienced arts educator veteran of inner city students review Why is
the Mona Lisa installation with its self contained ArtiFAQ 2100 expansion art
history project, I am astonished by the extent to which museum web resources
are transforming arts in education and providing spacial entry points to
multidisciplinary literacy and learning. In light of our experience and ongoing use
of museum web resources, we can only hope museums will continue to reach out
in a virtual sense to in place school web projects and provide a broad range of
partnerships between musems and schools. Together, we educators, can nurture
online lifelong literacy and arts appreciation. May Mona manifest her momentum
for the 21st century through the use of Museum resources as student centered
springboards and captivating catalysts.
Types of assignments:
In the ArtiFAQ 2100 project,
students were asked to search for relevant artwork representing past
artistic achievements. Once they selected these, they had to justify
their selection process. They were then asked to write for permission
to use the work on their site. Paris Pages gave permission to use Mona
Lisa. The Van Gogh Museum did as well for Starry Night. Mark Harden
generously provided us with additional work from The Archive.
Permissions were duly secured.
They utilized sophisticated HTML coding to build browser optimized
pages, including java applets, and novel framed presentation for the future
gallery. The quiz provides an interactive interface which enables the
visitors to access the gallery.
They created many works of digitized computer graphics, building on
trends and achievements of the past, to fill the walls of the virtual