A Fistful of Shadows

I am interested in how long we humans have been talking about shadows, creating things with shadows and using shadows in art.

I’ve found it has been a very long time.

About the 4th Century BCE Plato used the ‘Allegory of the Cave’ in his work, The Republic, to highlight how a philosopher is like the man freed from a cave – he can experience actual reality instead of just watching the shadows of reality on the cave walls.

Wow –  that goes way back in time.


The light and shadow depicted  by an artist helps convey the mood or emotion of the piece to his or her audience.

Shadows appear in paintings during the 15th Century. Renaissance artists made good use of shadows to evoke mood as well as perspective.

Lorenzo di Credi ( 1459 – 1537) is just one example of a Renaissance artist who made use of shadows in his paintings.



Ludovico  Carracci (1555 – 1619) was an early Baroque painter who also made good use of shadows.


Jan van Eyck (1395 – 1441) was a Flemish painter considered one of the best Northern European painters of the 15th Century. He also used shadows in his paintings.


This piece from Honore Daumier (1808-1879) uses shadow to give the figures their shape.


Shadows have also transferred to our more modern media – TV, film and radio.

Who remembers Swing Time (1936) when Fred Astaire used Shadow dancing for the ‘Bo jangles in Harlem’ sequence?


In some instances shadows have taken on more negative connotations.

Remember the movie Nosferatu when the Vampyre is creeping up the steps in the dark of night?


And what about TV?

Who can forget the cult classic of the 1960’s-1970’s  Dark Shadows and its star, Barnabas Collins?


And Radio? Remember this? “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?”

The opening words of the Detective Story Hour Radio Show which began in 1930 and was reborn into the show most people remember airing from 1937-1954.


People have fun playing with shadows too. Have you ever used your hands to make shadow puppets on a wall?


Shadows are popular in modern art too.

British-born and -based artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster make incredible shadow art from junk.

Their piece, Dirty White Trash (With Gulls) is 6 months worth of refuse plus 2 dead Seagulls.


It looks like shadows will continue to be used as focal points in all forms of media.

It’s a good thing too, because I like them.

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