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Light/Lightings

While light was used to convey religious significance in Medieval Art, in the Renaissance, light was a significant tool for artists to create ‘depth’ in picture so that gave a sense of realism in paintings. The Renaissance artists focused on the clarity of the painting’s subject matter and therefore emphasized the details of it by maximizing the contrast between light and dark. In the seventeenth century, the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer used light more than a tool for creating pictorial shape, made it a part of his painting. Vermeer who especially enjoyed creating scenes of light coming from windows, was excellent at capturing and placing it in the right place in his pictures.

Johannes Vermeer
The Milkmaid, c. 1657-1658
Oil on canvas
45.5 x 41 cm (17.9 x 16.1 in.)
The Rijksmuseum Collection

Caravaggio
The Calling of Saint Matthew, 1599-1600
Oil on canvas
322 x 340 cm (127 x 130 in.)
Located in the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome

Chiaroscuro

Chiaroscuro is the use of strong contrast between light and dark for creating a three-dimensional effect and adding more dramatic visual effect in painting. The technique was favored by the seventeenth century artists like Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Rubens, and Georges de La Tour who exaggerated the light in the painting to brighten the main subject matter in contrast with the dark background.

The invention of tubed paint in 1841 enabled artists to enjoy painting outside, capture the nature in the changing light. With such a strong idea of Impressionism, light has become a movement itself since that time. One of the first to truly make light a central character was Claude Monet. Including the famous Water Lillies series, in some of his paintings, it is near impossible to consider an object or a shape without light since the light itself completed the whole picture.

“O painter! To dress your figures in the lightest colors you can, since, if you put them in dark colors, they will be in too slight relief, and inconspicuous in distance. And the reason is that shadows of all objects are dark. And if you make a dress dark, there is little variety in the lights and shadows, while in light colors there are many grades.”

Leonardo da Vinci

Dan Flavin
‘Monument’ for V. Tatlin, 1966-1969
Cool white fluorescent tubes on metal fittings
305.1 x 61.9 cm (120.1 x 24.4 in.)
The Marc & Livia Straus Family Collection
Photo by Maksim Akelin

With the appearance/ development of artificial light, light has become a movement itself in the modern era. Since László Moholy-Nagy, a Hungarian painter who was also a professor in the Bauhaus school used the terms of ‘Light Art’ for his Light Space Modulator (1922-1930), a physical object combined with light that shows the relationship between light and object, the light has been in itself regarded as a medium of art.

Dan Flavin used light’s inherent radiating quality as both subject and medium to reveal the hidden area of human life and many of West Coast artists in the sixties and seventies including Robert Irwin and James Turrell concerned with how geometric shapes and use of light could affect the environment and perception of viewers. These artists produced site-specific light art, mainly installation working within and responding to the specific surrounding world of experience.

Related categories

Photography

Installation

Chiaroscuro

Figures in Nature

Impressionism

Works on Paper

Kinetic Art

Perception

Introspection / Meditation

Reality and Fantasy / Illusion / Imagination

Large Scale Installation/Sculpture

Sublime

Light/Darkness

Space/Spatiality

Post-War American Art

Sensory Experience

Gelatin Silver Print

Blurred Images

Neon/Fluorescent Light

Light Installation

Less is More

Praise for Nature

Psychedelic Art

Soft and Meticulous Brushstrokes

Zero Movement

Op Art

Renaissance Art