Skip to main content

'Standing between Darkness and Light' Shadows in Western Art from ancient times to the present

Defined by Leonardo da Vinci as 'standing between darkness and light,' shadows are and always have been everywhere, but they are not always depicted in art. The origins of the depiction of shadows in art, will be traced, but they were rarely shown in Classical, Early Christian and medieval art. The portrayal of shadows really comes into its own in Renaissance Italy - linked with the immense advances in scientific study and new learning (especially optics). Shadows can be used to give bodily and other forms a three-dimensionality hitherto not achieved, or as the actual depiction of cast shadows, sometimes with symbolic meaning. Shadows were used to bring a psychological or even magical resonance to Renaissance painting. And the use of shadows in art as mysterious, ethereal or even divine has continued to the present day. Accredited Lecturer Dr Valerie Shrimplin tells us more.


Our Societies support hundreds of local arts and heritage projects. Each day we highlight a grant given in 2021.  

The Arts Society Thames Estuary have awarded a grant to Southend In Sight who support young people with visual impairments and their families. The grant will be used to purchase art materials so that the children can produce and artwork to be displayed locally.

All donations from the Artvent Calendar will go towards The Arts Society’s grant giving fund, which awards grants to help preserve our artistic heritage, support the skills of artists and makers, and improve access to the arts for all.

Please click here to support projects like this one by making a Donation.



Enjoyable and enlightening! - Came back to listen to this well presented lecture once more.

Irene Tue, 28/12/2021 - 15:55 Permalink

This talk was so interesting and well-presented, it stayed with me, and I came back and listened to it again today.
Many thanks.

Gill Tue, 21/12/2021 - 11:21 Permalink

That was wonderful, so interesting and (yes) illuminating!

Jeanne Gregory Sun, 19/12/2021 - 14:46 Permalink

Such an interesting and enjoyable lecture. I immediately took a photo of our Christmas tree and it's shadow! So much information given in a short space of time. Thank you.

Gwenda Roberts Mon, 13/12/2021 - 22:59 Permalink

Many thanks. An absolutely fascinating talk.

Gill. Mon, 13/12/2021 - 12:32 Permalink

Excellent. Another gentle reminder that we need to take our time when looking at 'art' in all its forms - a quick glance just will not do!
Thank you.

Margaret Haywood Sat, 11/12/2021 - 17:00 Permalink

Excellent presentation Thank you

Jill Allan Fri, 10/12/2021 - 22:59 Permalink

Such an interesting subject and well described by Valerie. I have done a bit of painting and the tutor always emphasized the importance of putting the shadows in, makes such a big difference to a work of art or in my case an attempt at a work of art! Thank you, look forward to these e-mails every morning.

Sheila Mason Fri, 10/12/2021 - 18:54 Permalink

My knowledge increased and my eyes opened for looking at pictures in future.

Sarah Curtis Fri, 10/12/2021 - 18:01 Permalink

A very interesting and thought provoking lecture. Very well delivered, not looking at any notes, with a good balance of slides and speech. I shall definitely look for the shadows when looking at paintings in the future.

Maybe lectures should be reminded that concentrating on their notes when speaking does not make the audience feel included.

Anonymous Fri, 10/12/2021 - 17:16 Permalink