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Ombres portées

E.H. Gombrich

Winter is the perfect season to look after one’s shadow. Indeed, with the low lying sun it becomes long and rather cumbersome. But actually, are we that conscious of its presence? While everyone has noticed that the dark shadowy works were the focus of certain artists of the XVIIth century, such as Caravaggio or La Tour, who has noted on the other hand that shadows are practically absent from renaissance paintings? Leonardo recommended looking at the world through a sort of haze, a veiled sun. This short essay by Gombrich, written in 1996 at age 87, is a sort of history of the shadow, and its eclipses. His theories rest on the collections from the National Gallery in London, which allow him to cover most typologies, except for the first examples on mosaics in the Ancient times! From the Flemish primitives to Chirico, they include remarkable figures such as the shadows on curved walls (Joseph in Egypt by Pontormo), shadows seen through a glass globe (Salvator Mundi by Previtali) or the effects of Chinese shadows by Wright of Derby (Experiment on a bird in the air pump ). We well understand the sad fate of Peter Schlemihl, Chamisso’s hero, who had the bad idea of selling his to the devil.

Ombres portées,by E.H. Gombrich, Gallimard, 2015, 112 p., €20.

Ombres portées - E.H. Gombrich

Review published in the newsletter #417 - from 11 February 2016 to 17 February 2016

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