Evolution Of Light In Painting

Light to a painting is what air is to our body. Without air, we cannot survive; similarly, without an adequate proportion of light, the image would be pitch dark or extremely bright. Over the years, artists have mastered the usage of light to illuminate specific parts of a picture to provide the desired form, shape, texture, color, and value to the painting.

The usage of light has its roots in the past from the time photography was introduced. Photography originates from Greek words Phos meaning light and Graphis meaning paintbrush. A combination of these words, photography means drawing with light. Over time, many artists have generated pieces of wonder by playing with light in their masterworks. Light affects emotions and renders perception intending to create a story from a single object.

History Of Evolution Of Light In Paintings

Over the years, artists found three main ways to beautify paintings with light effects. These methods include Light Drawing which comprises an art form wherein the light source is visible by the camera. It is mainly used for prolonged usage to create a design within the frame.

The second one constitutes Kinetic Light Painting which is a technique to hold the lights steady with the movement of the camera to paint the effects on colors and designs within the frame. The last one comprises Light Painting which uses handheld light sources focusing light on specific parts to illuminate those parts during long exposures to the picture.

Usage Of Light In Paintings

During the Renaissance period, Leonardo Da Vinci studied the effects of light on different objects and its variation with distance. He used his findings to create a beautiful landscape based on light and shadow. His depth and positioning of images were commendable and followed by several other artists in creating their artworks with a perspective and effect of light.

The enlightenment era was distinguished by using light as the source of illumination and all the objects in the picture were drawn based on the reflection of the light illuminated on them. This age was followed by the Impressionists wherein painters used to focus the effects of natural light – sunlight in a scene or a landscape.

This evolution of light and the techniques used by famous artists to decipher their artworks are depicted in the examples below.

The Last Supper By Leonardo Da Vinci

This genius and renowned artist studied the optical properties of light from the viewpoint of science and art as well. He applied his knowledge of Physics, Anatomy, Biology, and other sciences to discover patterns in human perception of light. He understood the importance of space and associated it with the placement of light. He applied these principles in his famous artwork – The Last Supper, focusing on Jesus amongst the other people around with the effects of light and space.

The Dream of St. Joseph by Georges de La Tour

Georges De La Tour has tactfully used the principles of light and shadow and depicted in his artform- The dream of St. Joseph. Here he has used a single illuminating light source- a candle hidden by the girl, and its light is reflected only on her palm and face. On the other hand, the old man’s face has been dimly lit by another source not visible in the picture. This effect creates a perspective of volume, giving a clear idea of the location of its characters.

Woman With a Pearl Necklace By Jan Vermeer

In the 17th century – the age of enlightenment, painters did not limit the use of lighting to create shapes, but light itself was included in the painting. This phenomenon was also used by the Dutch artist Jan Vermeer in his artwork of a woman with a pearl necklace wherein the white wall reflects light on the woman through a window.

Water Lilies by Claude Monet

Few artists like Claude Monet worked on making light the essence of their whole artwork. Here is an excerpt of one such painting Water Lilies, from his collection of 250 similar paintings. He got engrossed in emphasizing the importance of light and worked on this concept for three decades. His artworks depict the reflection of natural elements: Sun, clouds, leaves, and forests formed exclusively by light.

Breakfast of Crab by Willem Claezs Heda

Willem Claesz Heda continued this trend of painting light in objects to highlight form and purpose. His still-life images reflect the source of light emerging from one end falling on the table cloth and the entities on the same side of the table. The objects on the other side are darkened according to the intensity of light. This phenomenon was carried on by the impressionists in the 19th century who found inspiration from nature. Their motive in each drawing was to exhibit the effect of sunlight on each element.


The techniques and innovations are improvised day by day by the artists of the 20th and 21st century. Their depictions consist of the usage of electric light and its variations in their art forms. Further, this becomes considerably challenging for modern artists to decipher an art form based on the source within as well as the light from outside.

Modern-day artists duly follow the principles of the famous artists and club them with their knowledge of the latest inventions in art. Using their techniques they provide a replica of the famous- traditional or modern artworks as per your taste from 1st art gallery.

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