Artibus et Historiae no. 11 (VI)

1985, ISSN 0391-9064

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EDWARD J. OLSZEWSKI - Distortions, Shadows, and Conventions in Sixteenth-Century Italian Art

Sixteenth century Italian mannerist paintings, characterized by juxtaposed figures in angular poses with limbs and torsos flattened in the picture, have had these elements explained as a result of extensive copying of Roman relief sculpture in the artist's studio. Figural elongation, although frequently an element of such paintings, could not be explained in this way. It is suggested in this study that figure distortion is reflective of an esthetic attitude reinforced by the studio convention of copying cast shadows. The scientific studies of cast shadows by Leonardo da Vinci demonstrate that the circumstance under which an object and its shadow are of uniform size and shape are so rare that the shape is almost always never a true image. Comparison of prints of the artist's workshop from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries indicate a change from studying shadows in directed artificial light to working in the suffused light of day.

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