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Build a Bargueno


In this lesson, the students will be creating a decorative drawer front concealing student treasures. This will be accomplished by exploring the functions of a bargueno (writing desk).  The will discover how cultural influences impact the artist's motif.

Work of Art: Bargueno (Writing desk)

Subject Area: Art

Time Frame: Four to Five Classes (45 minute periods each)

Lesson Objectives:

The students will be able to:

  • describe this writing desk and the function it served in the culture of the time.
  • create a separate drawer to scale and these will be assembled into a class desk that displays each drawer. Students will use repetitive motifs in designing their drawers.
  • cut out shapes to represent their own personal treasures and place them behind their drawers.

Relevant TEKS:

Knowledge and skills. Complete TEKS for 6th grade art.

1. Perception: b.
2. Creative expression/performance: b. and c.
3. Historical cultural heritage: a.

4. Response/evaluation: a. and b.


  • sketch paper
  • colored paper to match colors of wood and designs
  • glue and scissors
  • display board


Introducing the Work of Art

Spanish drop-front desks, known today as barguenos, were the most common pieces of furniture in sixteenth- and seventeenth- century Spanish homes.


This drop-front desk was a common piece of furniture in 16th and 17th century Spanish homes and served a practical function. The small drawers and the hinged compartments were suited to storage of small treasures, documents, and writing materials and the desk could be closed with iron lock-plates and carried by the handles for transport. When positioned it would rest on a base such as this trestle stand.

Technique or Process

This writing desk is decorated with bone and small strips of light wood inlaid into walnut wood.

Cultural roots - see map

The intricate design of this desk is done in a style know as mudejar. This word is used for the Moors who remained in Spain after it was re-conquered by the Christians. The Islamic penchant for intricate patterning and for decorating entire surfaces is manifested throughout the piece in the diamond, pear and triangular shapes of inlaid ivory. The arched columns, floral arrangements, and curvilinear vines reflect a more European tradition.

Link to image on exhibition web site - Bargueno (Writing desk)

  • Show students a large image of the two views of the desk.
    1. What features do you notice about this desk?
    2. Compare these features to the desks we use at school and home.  How are the similar? How are they different?

  • Discuss the function of the various parts of the desk.
    1. What would be put in the drawers and hinged compartments?
    2. What type of documents would one store in a bargueno such as this?
    3. Why would you want locks on the compartments?

  • Discuss how culture influences art.
    1. What influences your design choices?  What about culture?
    2. What cultural influence might have played a role in the design of this desk?

  • Discuss the concept of motif and the relevance of the motifs of this piece to the history of that time.
    1. What is a motif?
    2. What patterns or decorations do you notice in the desk?
    3. Are these patterns influenced by a specific culture of that time period?

Art Activity:

  • Students will create individual drawer designs to scale so that they can be fitted into a completed class writing desk for display. The work will be done in construction paper using colors similar to those used in this desk to simulate the walnut, lightwood and ivory.

  • Students will select and illustrate motifs appropriate for the student, school or community and use repetition of motif to complete their drawers.

  • When finished the individual drawers will be fitted together on a display board in a configuration similar to the original desk. The desk from the Franz Mayer show has ten drawers so students will need to design a desk front to accommodate the number of drawers completed in the class or may wish to have two separate desks with 10 - 12 drawers in each. A base should be cut of black paper and fitted under the desk as in the original work of art.

  • Students' drawer shapes will be attached to the display only at the sides and bottom leaving the top open. Students will draw or cut small replicas of things that they treasure or write secret messages and slip them into their own compartments.

  • The students will compare their product with the desk from the exhibition.

    1. What motif did you use in creating your drawer?  Why did you choose this particular motif?

    2. What motif did the designer of the Writing Desk use?  What do you think influenced the artist's choice?

    3. How do motifs represent the current trends of the time period?

Evaluation Procedure:

  • Students will discuss their work of art and how they met the lesson objectives. Students could write about the completed class desk and how it compares with the desk from the Franz Mayer exhibit.

  • The finished desk should show uniformity of design with each student using repetition of motif and colors as seen in the original work of art and the drawers should be cut to scale so that they fit together neatly for display. See assessment matrix.

Extension Activity Ideas:

Math: Working in scale to complete a class project.
Language Arts: Writing a secret letter to someone to be hidden in the drawer.
Social Studies: Research and make a timeline of the history of Spain.
Science: Identify the types of trees that would grow in the area of Aragon in Spain. Which woods would be identified as lightwood? Were walnut trees grown in that climate or would it have been imported?


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