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The Play of Light

Though we’ve moved past solstice, the nights are still long, and I’m still (usually) up before the sun. But while darkness still reigns, there is the promise of longer days to come. There is hope and possibility. Sometimes, it is that promise more than the reality that shines the brightest in our lives and in the paintings we love. Consider those very dark paintings of the Renaissance, where the small amount of light surrounded by dark glows especially bright. It is, in fact, that juxtaposition of extreme values that strikes us. Without the surrounding dark, the same light would not shine as bright.

The play of light and shadow will be a focus for me this year,and I find myself looking for the places and ways they dance together. It’s fun to look for this in nature and whenever you find yourself in front of a masterpiece.

Caravaggio was a master of chiaroscuro, which dramatizes this balance beautifully. In his painting, Supper at Emmaus, you can see how he uses it to wonderful effect, guiding your eye and creating an emotional response that would be absent without the dramatic and subtle value contrasts.

Supper at Emmaus - 1606 - Caravaggio

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