Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Leonardo on Shadows

Shadow is of the nature of darkness.


Light is of the nature of a luminous body;

One conceals and the other reveals.

They are always associated and inseparable from all objects--

But shadow is a more powerful agent than light.


Shadow is the counterpart of the luminous rays

Which are transformed into back into shadow.

Shadow is the diminution alike of light and of darkness;

It stands between darkness and light.

A shadow may be infinitely dark,

Or of infinite degrees of absence of darkness.


The beginnings and ends of shadow lie between the light and darkness

They may be infinitely diminished and infinitely increased.

Shadow is the means by which bodies display their form--

The forms of bodies could not be understood but for shadow.


Shadow partakes of the nature of universal matter.

All such matters are more powerful in their beginning

And grow weaker towards the end.

I say at the beginning, whatever their form or condition may be

And whether visible or invisible.

For it is not from small beginnings that they grow to a great size in time,

As a great oak which has a feeble beginning from a small acorn.

Yet I may say that the oak is most powerful at its beginning,

That is where it springs from the earth, which is where it is largest.

Darkness, then, is the strongest degree of shadow

And light is its least.

Therefore, O Painter, make your shadow darkest

Close to the object that casts it,

And make the end of it fading into light,

Seeming to have no end.

When the light is below the sphere

The shadow is thrown up towards the sky

And finding no obstruction on its way

Is lost...

-from the Notebooks (selections from Sections 118-125)

"Unable to resist my eager desire and wanting to see the great of
the various and strange shapes made by formative nature, and having
wandered some distance among gloomy rocks, I came to the entrance of
a great cavern, in front of which I stood some time, astonished and
unaware of such a thing. Bending my back into an arch I rested my
left hand on my knee and held my right hand over my down-cast and
contracted eye brows: often bending first one way and then the
other, to see whether I could discover anything inside, and this
being forbidden by the deep darkness within, and after having
remained there some time, two contrary emotions arose in me, fear
and desire--fear of the threatening dark cavern, desire to see
whether there were any marvelous thing within it ..."

I think this image perfectly sums up Leonardo--peering into the
darkness with fear and desire. No artist was so drawn to the
shadows of existence, the blurry edges where boundaries are lost
and darkness threatens to swallow everything. In the end,
the darkness did swallow him up, and Leonardo ended his days
haunted by apocalyptic visions of Deluge.

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