The Beloved of Enalus Sacrificed to Poseidon and Spared, c. 1512
Bernardino Fungai, Italian (Sienese), 1460–1516
Tempera, oil, and gold leaf on wood
panel: 20 3/8 × 79 1/2 in. (51.7 × 201.9 cm) frame: 32 1/2 × 92 3/4 in. (82.55 × 235.59 cm)
The Edith A. and Percy S. Straus Collection

Habits of Mind

  • OVERCOME FEAR Overcome fear of ambiguity / fear of failure or being wrong / fear of the unknown
  • DEVELOP GRIT Develop endurance / grit / desire to rework ideas / open to a range of ideas and solutions/ possess self-discipline and self-confidence

Renaissance Painting

Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.

Curriculum Objectives

•  Study the use of perspective in Renaissance painting.

•  Create a painting of a travel scene using tempera.






Overcome Fear

Develop Grit

Connecting to the Work of Art

Pronounce the artist’s name:  Foon-guy’


The story depicted in this painting recounts a little known story from Greek mythology. A group of colonists, bound for the island of Lesbos, are instructed by an oracle to drop one of their daughters into the sea as an offering to Poseidon, Greek god of the sea.  At the far right, a young woman in red, the beloved of Enalus, is forced from the boat; in the center, she swims through the water aided by dolphins; and at the far left, she is greeted and pulled ashore by a group of women. In the background is a wooded landscape depicting women, farmers and fishermen, a mounted knight, and two monk-like figures reading books at the mouth of a cave. Poseidon is shown with his trident in the center of the painting, and the figures of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and Eros, her son, at the far left, allude to a classical source.


This painting reveals the Renaissance interests in careful observation of nature and in creating a convincing three-dimensional space through the use of perspective.  Fungai filled this work with exquisite details of the boats, the animals, and the countryside. The artist suggests deep space through atmospheric perspective. Objects in the foreground are large, detailed, and painted in naturalistic colors. To suggest depth, the artist painted the distant hills and ships as small in size, muted in tone, and lacking detail.  The repetition of the young maiden in red establishes the three episodes and moves the story across the painted surface.


To create this painting, Fungai sealed a wooden panel with a layer of gesso, a gypsum and glue paste combination. After sanding the surface smoothly, he then applied the paint.  In fifteenth-century Italy the prevalent painting medium was egg tempera. Vegetable or mineral pigments were ground to a fine powder, mixed with water to make a wet paste, then combined with egg yolk and water. The yellow of the yolk had no impact on the paint’s color. Egg tempera dries quickly, resulting in areas of flat color with sharp edges. It is a very durable and chemically stable medium that over time changes little in color.


In the history of European art, the Renaissance is generally dated 1400-1550.  The word “renaissance” means “rebirth” and refers to the renewed interest in the art, culture, literature, and science of ancient Greece and Rome that characterized the period.  Scholars and artists of the Renaissance viewed themselves as the cultural heirs of the great writers, artists, and political and military leaders of antiquity.  Classical art provided a great many styles and approaches for the Renaissance artist to study.


This painting of a mythological story was probably displayed in a home.  Although the story has not been identified, it is one that teaches a lesson in virtue.  Such stories were popular in the Renaissance and were intended to serve as models for the people who viewed them.  Paintings like this one were either incorporated into the paneling of a room or into a chest, called a cassone.


Curators are always researching the museum’s collection.  In the process, titles of works of art can change.  This work used to be called Mythological Narrative, a generic term.  Curatorial research identified the myth depicted here, so the work was retitled.


•  Study each work of art.  Discuss the subject and find the focus of each.  How does the artist direct attention to that focus?

•  Compare objects in the foreground, middle ground, and background of each work.  How do the artists suggest depth?  Define perspective.

•  Note the shape of the two paintings.  How does each painter arrange the composition to fit the shape of the panel?

•  Learn about the egg tempera medium.


•  Complete the language arts lesson.  Review the students’ travel journals and have students select an entry in their journal as the subject for a painting.

•  Have students experiment with the egg tempera medium, then create a tondo, or round painting, of their journal entry using the egg tempera medium.  Be sure students suggest depth in their painting and use color, line, and contrast to create a focus to the composition. (see Art Lesson: Renaissance Painting- Creating a Tondo)

Resources Available to Order

The Art-To-Go lending library features materials that may easily be integrated across the K–12 curriculum. Resources include DVDs, music CDs, children’s books, study guides, poster sets, and collection-based interpretive materials produced by the KFEC. Educators, community leaders, and docents from throughout Texas are welcome to borrow Art-To-Go resources. To place your order, search the online catalogue and add the selected items to your basket. After you have reviewed your basket, submit the order electronically.

The Learning Through Art program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is underwritten by:

Mercantil Commercebank

The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.