Shadows: The Depiction of Cast Shadows in Western Art

Shadows: The Depiction of Cast Shadows in Western Art

E. H. Gombrich

Language: English

Pages: 96

ISBN: 0300210043

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In this intriguing book, E.H. Gombrich, who was one of the world’s foremost art historians, traces how cast shadows have been depicted in Western art through the centuries. Gombrich discusses the way shadows were represented—or ignored—by artists from the Renaissance to the 17th century and then describes how Romantic, Impressionist, and Surrealist artists exploited the device of the cast shadow to enhance the illusion of realism or drama in their representations. First published to accompany an exhibition at the National Gallery, London, in 1995, it is reissued here with additional color illustrations and a new introduction by esteemed scholar Nicholas Penny. It is also now available as an enhanced eBook, with zoomable images and accompanying film footage. 

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London Plate 26: Codex Ashburnham, part of ms. A 1490-1492, folio 14. Bibliothèque de l’Institut de France. Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais (Institut de France) / René-Gabriel Ojéda Plate 27: Florence, Brancacci Chapel. Photo Archivi Alinari, Florence, 1989 Plate 29: Frankfurt, Städelsches Kunstinstitut. Photo © Ursula Edelmann, Frankfurt am Main Plate 30: Museo San Marco / Scala Archives Plate 33: Collection: Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil © DACS. Giorgio de

of reflective silver, a transparent glass, a candle, a skull and a watch arranged in compact disarray on a table, and these pictures were often intended not merely to please but to stimulate thoughts of mortality and the vanity of worldly possessions and aspirations. But by his use of shadows Wright makes things sinister. For children, shadows have always been alarming, especially at night, and yet this is perhaps the only painting in the National Gallery, with the exception of the Goya (see

Greek Philosopher Anaximander holding a Sundial. 2nd century AD. Roman mosaic. The invention of the sundial was based on these invariants and dates back to very ancient times.4 Various forms of this device were known to classical antiquity (Plate 22), while later centuries introduced further refinements such as the combination of the dial with the marine compass as shown in Holbein’s portrait of ‘The Ambassadors’ (Plate 23). The calibration of these instruments is complex enough, but the

Plate 30 Fra Angelico, The Virgin and Child, about 1450 (detail). Fresco, Florence, San Marco. Plate 31 Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Supper at Emmaus, 1601. Oil and tempera on canvas, 141 × 196.2 cm. It is not the intention of this rapid survey of the history of our topic to steal the thunder of the subsequent section that must be devoted to the choice of examples in the exhibition, but we cannot here bypass the leading master whose great painting of The Supper at Emmaus (Plate

Corinth), 1775. Oil on wood, 38.7 × 31 cm. Plate 37 Drawing of a silhouette, from the English edition of J.C. Lavater’s Physiognomische Fragmente, London 1797. It seems a plausible story, but trying the trick we find that we easily run into difficulty: our own shadow tends to get in the way and obliterates the outlines we wish to draw. Even if we keep our bodies out of the way, the shadow cast by our own drawing hand must inevitably fall precisely on the area we wish to trace. Of course,

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