IV. Studying Light

Capturing light, accurately indicating its play on shapes and forms, catching the way shadows model volumes, using the intensity of chiaroscuro to dramatise the presence of a figure. The study of lumi was an essential element in Italian theoretical treatises, and was echoed by draughtsmen from the fifteenth century on. Light sometimes features in the earliest sketches or, more frequently, was tackled in one of the last phases of preparatory work for a painting. In some cases, the light was studied for its own sake, allowing the artist to practice understanding and rendering the relationship between light and shade.
To represent this relationship, draughtsmen resorted to a variety of graphic solutions: the brightness of light could be represented by white highlights (chalk, bodycolour) on a dark support (prepared or tinted paper) or, using a reverse effect, shade could be indicated with a dark medium (red chalk, black chalk, brown ink) on a light support, left blank.

Seguita sempre la più eccelente luce, e vogli con debito ragionevole intenderla e seguiterla; perchè, di cio’ mancando, non sarebbe tuo lavoro con nessuno rilievo, e verrebbe cosa semplice, e con poco mestiero.

Always follow the brightest light, and make sure to use it and follow it in sensible manner; because, if you do not, your work will have no relief, it will be oversimplified and produced with little skill.

Cennino Cennini, Trattato della pittura, Florence, circa 1400