Post 732 -by Gautam Shah
Other published Blogs in this series > ILLUMINATION and SHADOWS
1 ILLUMINATION and SHADOWS -Issues of Design 34 > https://interiordesignassist.wordpress.com/2021/01/15/illumination-and-shadows-issues-of-design-34/
2 ILLUMINATION and ARCHITECTURAL SHADOWS -Issues of Design 35 > https://interiordesignassist.wordpress.com/2021/03/03/illumination-and-architectural-shadows-issues-of-design-35/
The Next One will be
4 ILLUMINATION and COLOUR SHADES -Issues of Design 37
Illumination manifests directly and through reflections, but always with the shadows. The shadows define the source of illumination, intensity, extent and direction. In art, illumination and shadows get expressed as depths of the elements and as cast shadows. Shadows could be intense occluding the colour, surface texture and minor details, or could be thin enough to reveal the form and surface underneath. The opacity and translucency of the shadows, both are expressed through colour combinations of hues, tones, tints and shades. These mixed in various proportions create effects of realism, grandiose, expressionistic, impressionistic and illusions.
For a long time, light was only seen as a functional element of everyday life. The first ‘artists’ who realized the importance of light were the primitive age cave painters. They recognized two omni present sources of light, 1 from the mouth of the cave and 2 interior ‘reflector’ surfaces (which, were favourably angled, of lighter colour and not heavily textured). Both were dependent on solar illumination. The third sources of illuminations were the hand-held oil lamps. These were used to draw the artwork and later perhaps for the ceremonial exposure that included the narration. The illumination was stationary as well as moving. The stationary light was to highlight relevant elements in the scene whereas, the moving illumination was to interconnect the sections for reinforcing the magic or narration.
All three types of illuminations affected the art compositions (scale, distances between the elements, white spaces, direction, movement by orientation of the head, colour intensity and the texture). These were subtle and informal lessons. The lessons were used in other expressions and communications. The effects of illumination had two classes. The variable effects were due to the changing position of the sun, shifting of the observer and intensity of the illumination. The stationary effects relied on the referential consequences such as through occlusion, masking, framing, etc.
The primitive age wall-art did not use shadowing for forming the depth aspect of the individual objects, for presenting the overlapping of objects, or for indicating the day, night, ground or skies. At places, the lower body sections of animals, though have lighter colours, pointing to the lighter skin area.
Bronze Age lasted from roughly 3300 to 1200 BC with main centers that formed adjacent domains, such as Sumer, Mesopotamia, Greece and Egypt. These were also connected to many other civilizations. In these cultures, two main types of drawn arts developed, the wall art and figures on potteries. In both the cases, the figures were highlighted without the ‘in-fill shadows’ or ‘fall-out shadows’, but with through the stark contrast with the background and in few cases emphatic outlines or silhouette lines. In early periods, the wall-arts or ceramics had the background space sometimes filled with non-overlapping human figures at smaller scale, but never used motifs, vegetation or architectural features.
Through this period, four types of representative arts emerged. Drawn arts like Paintings, Ceramics and Mosaics had human or animal figures in 2D format, but no vegetation, terrain details or built-forms as main or background. Body adornments and sculptures had the advantage, the base forms were already 3D formed, and so any painting on these had greater depth. The Mycenaean, Greeks, Egyptian, Romans and others in Asia, painted their sculptures, but, without exploring the natural (sun-light) shadows at the place, however sometimes enhancing the 3D effect of the forms through dark-light colour variations.
To cause wider colour variations between the illuminated and shadowed areas wider palette was required. The really variegated range was available in oxide colours like red, umber, sienna, etc., through selective sourcing from nature and by calcining (sintering, as raw versus burnt) the minerals. Shadows in drawn arts require a wider palette. It came about in Europe with disintegration of the Roman Empire and Migrations of the Barbarians.
In absence of shadowing, the emphases in composition were achieved through larger scaling, use of inlays, embellishments, incised (low engraving in wet clay). The low incision was also used in early stone carving to emphasize the figure, but the shadows of solar illumination were not consistent through the day at an observation point.
The golden face-masks of the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt were expressions of divine brightness. In Christianity the piety of Christ was shown as dark face, but enhanced with a shining halo and shiny background. Till, and often after, the Byzantine period, the directional illumination for Christ and other holy figures was rarely used. There was no consideration for the source of illumination in the surroundings, so in composition many figures seemed incompatible with each other.
The shadows on body-figures were first added in mosaic murals of early Greek periods. Here the folds of the garments and under the chin areas were made darker. Fresco wall painting technique was a predefined zone-based colour impregnation (into wet plaster) technique. Mosaics, however, did not allow over painting for colour toning like the frescoes did. Mosaics offered no scope for rework through second application, and so had to be thoroughly preplanned.
The over-painting technique began to be used in frescoes. Such over painted shadows or ‘in-fill shadows’ continued to be used without the inclusion of ‘fall-out shadows’. Fresco artists exploited the ‘over painting’ for shadowing with reference to local direction of illumination and also for compositional balancing. Such post drawing additional effects, were not comprehensive and looked patchy.
The importance of ‘fall-out shadows’ was realized with the performing arts (recitation, drama, dances, dolls shows) enacted at night, with one or few lamps. Here the scenes and the characters, both were under shifting and varying shadows. The mood of scenes and characters were changed by intensity and position (height and sides) of the illuminating lamps. For dynamic scenes like calamities, wars, curse, etc. the source of illumination and the actors moved around, creating dynamic shadows. It was not possible to replicate such dynamism in representative or fixed arts.
Early Renaissance artists were once totally dependent on religious commissions, and so the subject matter. For the religious sponsors, the importance of the figures and the depth definition of the background were important matter. The humans (and few other living beings) were made important by shading of the body, but with no concern for the for the source of illumination and consistency of the direction. The craft of good composition helped overcome many of the patchy effects.
Art reached a different level of expression, when the Renaissance artists learnt to include the illumination and shadows in the perspectives. It also added details and depth. This was also a time Renaissance art overcame the restraints of religious dogmas, and began to move towards the humanist art. The art now experimented with high degree of realism as well as the illusion. The trompe l’oeil art technique was used for optical illusion to form the 3rd dimension or the false depth.
During the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) studied the combined effects of illumination and shadows. He studied the source of illumination in the composition, extent and intensity of shadows and the colour range (tonal, hue) for both. The artist tackled the visible and invisible (concealed) source of illumination and reflections from surrounding surfaces. The use of multiple sources of illuminations including the reflections from surrounding surfaces (usually nearby plain walls, and not the distanced architecture or terrains), gave a new feel of colour arrangement.
The Dutch master of domestic painting, Jan Vermeer, used light sources to create volume, and make light a part of the painting. In his ‘Woman with a Pearl Necklace’, most of the painting is taken up by a white wall reflecting the light from a window. Thus, light becomes an identifiable character of the painting. There were many like Pieter Brueghel the Elder, who created complex thematic narratives, simply out of dark-light contrasts, without bothering about the source of illumination.
The Baroque and Rococo periods saw the Plafond ceiling art. It created an illusive bright aeriform in upper space. The composition was designed respecting the illumination from the architectural openings in upper section of the space. It was heavier at the lower peripheral edge and became lighter (ethereal) towards the central portions. The lighter central area formed an illusive break (a sky cut-out) in the ceiling. It was viewed from a distance, so the scale and figurative expressions, both were manipulated. The height scale was high (distance of the ceiling from the floor or viewing levels), so artists finished the work in bold (rough) strokes. This was the manner of impressionist expression (that was to come years later).
Baroque painters created the impressionist effect by using rich colours to form an intense contrast between light and dark. This Baroque exuberance was however, sobered in Rococo Phase, through the calibrated illumination and softer shadows in subtle colours. Rococo sense of detail and elegance, were perhaps due to the clear and brilliant illumination through large openings and use of Opalescent and Cristallo glass.
The Renaissance artist, after debunking the religious themes, some of them became busy creating opulent art works. But other free wheelers, turned to humanism, which taught the artists to express passion, emotion, and sensation over rationale and reason. They also turned to truth and reality. In the process abandoned the Chiaroscuro style (Italian for ‘light =chiaro and dark=oscuro’), which, was based on use of strong contrasts between light and dark. Chiaroscuro was earlier practiced by Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Rembrandt and others.
Artists now moved to outdoors or plein air painting of the nature. This brought the artists not just out of dark interiors, but off their dark palettes. The Greens and Blues were the new colours.
City-based artists, who could not explore the nature, began to capture the street views, with effects of day time and night gas-light illumination. The day-light illumination in different forms, such as the cloudy skies, rains, snow fall and morning-evening twilight began to be the new art themes. The gas illumination technology developed in 1790s, became popular, first in commercial spaces, and later by 1816, gas streetlights were installed. Edison’s lamp in 1879 offered a cleaner and brighter option. But for the ‘street view’ artists, the new sources of evening and night illumination, with new tone and intensity, were exciting tools.
Artists like Giorgio de Chirico, Edward Hopper, Pascal Fessler and others worked on themes in which shadows figured prominently. The fascination for the shadows was not translated into depth, but seen in large surfaces of contrasting colours, in empty town squares, sparsely furnished rooms, flat facades.
The age of 19 C also brought in new chemistry of colours and new classifications. The colour violet only became an integral part of modern culture and life with the rise of the French Impressionists. The colours were seen as mixing of pigments and lights. Monet said: ‘Colours owe the brightness to force of contrast rather than to its inherent qualities’.