Skip navigation

TRICKS OF THE LIGHT: The Illusion of Light and Shadow in Western Art

The modern fashion for colour has left us all rather 'tone blind'. However, the property of light was vital to much Church art: stained glass, mosaics and gold ground panel paintings. From antiquity through to the nineteenth century, tone was often the most important property of a painting.

Leonardo invented Sfumato. Caravaggio embraced Chiaroscuro. The Tenebrists depicted a world of shadows. A favourite device used by Constable and Corot was a small black convex mirror! Twilight often was referred to as 'the painter's hour'.

Shading, together with perspective, can offer a convincing illusion of solidity and space. But how can the artist create this illusion? And why was the invention of oil paint so vital for the creation of realistic light effects?

We will explore a wide range of paintings from across the history of Western Art as well as some fascinating optical illusions to discover artists' tricks of the light.