Have been thinking about particular paintings I have seen this year that have impressed with the way in which the artist creates light and shadow : Chiaroscuro
This large canvas, Isaac Blessing Jacob by Matthias Stom (1635), at The Barber Institute in Birmingham has become a particular favourite:
The old and blind Isaac summons his eldest son Esau to prepare his meal and receive a blessing. His wife Rebecca substitutes her favourite son Jacob who wears goat-skin gloves in order to resemble his hairy brother.
He steps forward gingerly whilst Rebecca gestures to us not to reveal the deception. The dog sniffing the meat indicates that the biblical story also works as an allegory of the five senses – smell, taste, touch, hearing and sight. Stom was born in the Netherlands, but lived mainly in Naples and Sicily. His style was based on that of Caravaggio with its dramatic lighting, emotional directness and realistic figures.
I love the way in which Stom uses a light source off to the right of Isaac to reveal the frailty of the old man, while it keeps Rebecca in the shadows where she belongs. The way in which she makes us complicit in her deception is thrilling, not only does she keep eyecontact with us, it is the way in which her finger is raised as if she knows we are about to cry out that makes this such a realistic portrayal of deceit. The contrasts here between light and shadow give a claustrophobic feel to the composition.
Another of Stom’s paintings, Christ Crowned with Thorns, shows what happens when the light source is centralised:
The face of the youngest soldier is stunning and, although the figures are surrounding Christ, they do not seem to be as intimidating as the story would lead us to believe, due to the physical aspect of their hands and gazes.
This work is held by the Norton Simon Foundation is Pasadena and this link tells you more about the painting.
And, as I’m writing this in the early hours, some Bach seems appropriate for the mood: