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'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.


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shadows, we see them but do not always realise their significance

sylvia mccann Fri, 10/12/2021 - 10:48 Permalink

brilliant! thank you.

Jane Norrie Fri, 10/12/2021 - 10:39 Permalink

In spiritual art, unlike religious art, shadows are avoided to not fall into a dualistic view. O’Keeffe and Asian art in general minimize shadows for this reason and so as to not limit the view to a certain time of day (like a sundial does).
Infinity has no shadow as it is everywhere at once. Clear light is a Buddhist term for the ultimate reality. Enlightenment means beyond any obscurity….
Such spiritual art traditions have been wrongly criticized by Western historians as ignorant of Renaissance techniques.
I hope this sheds some new light on the question.

Deborah Jenner Fri, 10/12/2021 - 10:30 Permalink

Lovely lecture and it will certainly make me look at paintings more carefully. The final photo of your seaside reflection is just like one taken by my husband of us on the Norfolk coast. Photography is a wonderful media for shadows.

Lynne Dorff Fri, 10/12/2021 - 10:27 Permalink

A very good reason to wake up and start the day so positively. Thank you.

Patricia Fri, 10/12/2021 - 10:07 Permalink

Fascinating. Who would have known that shadows conveyed so much interest.

Susan Parsons Fri, 10/12/2021 - 10:03 Permalink

A fascinating subject - and interesting that it was supposedly a woman who made the first depiction in Art !!
I shall look anew at paintings to appreciate the shadows.

Sue Fri, 10/12/2021 - 09:57 Permalink

Most interesting and enjoyable. Thank you.

Sue Bruce Fri, 10/12/2021 - 09:51 Permalink

Thank you - such a clear and comprehensive look at the subject. And SO much better to have the speaker looking at the camera than at the screen in front of them! It gives an immediate connection with the viewer and the odd verbal hesitation is just entirely natural.

Catherine Fri, 10/12/2021 - 09:32 Permalink

Fascinating talk with such interesting artworks to emphasise her points.
Terrific lecture and lecturer, thank you

Jillie Moss Fri, 10/12/2021 - 09:18 Permalink