1st Edition

Painting, Science, and the Perception of Coloured Shadows ‘The Most Beautiful Blue’

By Paul Smith Copyright 2021
    190 Pages 32 Color & 40 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    190 Pages 32 Color & 40 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Many artists and scientists – including Buffon, Goethe, and Philipp Otto Runge – who observed the vividly coloured shadows that appear outdoors around dawn and dusk, or indoors when a candle burns under waning daylight, chose to describe their colours as ‘beautiful’.

    Paul Smith explains what makes these ephemeral effects worthy of such appreciation – or how depictions of coloured shadows have genuine aesthetic and epistemological significance. This multidisciplinary book synthesises methodologies drawn from art history (close pictorial analysis), psychology and neuroscience (theories of colour constancy), history of science (the changing paradigms used to explain coloured shadows), and philosophy (theories of perception and aesthetic value drawn from Wittgenstein and Merleau-Ponty).

    This title will be of interest to scholars in art history, art theory, and the history of science and technology.

    1. The Science  2. Light and Dark  3. Physics  4. Contrast  5. Constancy  6. The Criterion  7. Aesthetic Value  8. Conclusion


    Paul Smith is Professor of History of Art at the University of Warwick.

    "Everyday experience affords us a miraculous vision: in this deeply-researched and original study, Paul Smith traces the cultural history of the coloured shadow, a phenomenon that haunted the imagination and the practice of European naturalist painters between the Renaissance and the late nineteenth century; he shows how it has continued to elude scientific explanation until recent times, and argues that we may find in it beauty epitomized. In the course of his argument, he re-evaluates significant aspects of the theory and science of colour, with respect to painting and perception. His book will be valued both as a stimulus to thought on these subjects, and for its detailed and incisive analyses of paintings."

    - Brendan Prendeville, Goldsmiths, University of London