Shadows of the Past

Neanderthals may have been first human species to create cave paintings link



  • "Several times in the past 10 years scientists have had to rewrite the textbooks on Neanderthals, the latest species of human to go extinct. Once the archetype for primitive, uncivilised behaviour, the species, illuminated through fossil excavations and lately analysis of their genome, has emerged as being not too dissimilar from our own. Contrary to their dim-witted image Neanderthals have been found to have used tools, to have worn jewellery, and, lastly, to have interbred with our Homo sapiens ancestors to such an extent that 4% of every modern European's genome is traceable to Neanderthal origins."

A cave is very likely the home and origin of humanities first art. Actually not all "art" but painting/ drawing in particular. A cave creates an artificial and natural projection system which is not only similar to how camera's work - but also our own eyes. Our pupils are the entrance to the cave, and the light is then projected to the back of our eyes where it is transformed into signals to be processed by our brain. A camera with it's lens and light sensors work in almost the exact same way.

It's ironic that the first and what seems to be the most basic of art - cave paintings - by "cave men" are precursors to humanities most advanced art forms.



"The camera obscura (Latin; camera for "vaulted chamber/room", obscura for "dark", together "darkened chamber/room"; plural: camera obscuras or camerae obscurae) is an optical device that projects an image of its surroundings on a screen. It is used in drawing and for entertainment, and was one of the inventions that led to photography and the camera. The device consists of a box or room with a hole in one side. Light from an external scene passes through the hole and strikes a surface inside where it is reproduced, upside-down, but with color and perspective preserved. The image can be projected onto paper, and can then be traced to produce a highly accurate representation."



Leonardo's advancement in these areas - camera's and projections haven't yet been fully realized. He gives details about how to basically create a camera. With that same knowledge you can do all kinds of cool things - enlarge and shrink an image. Project it to be copied exactly. Once you understand how a projection of an image can be displayed - basically creating a perfect photograph - you could use that knowledge to project your imagination's images on canvas following the same principals that govern vision. Basically/ essentially painting a photograph. Or a painted image that is as accurate as a photograph.

Allegory of the Cave

"The first picture was merely a line drawn around the shadow of a man cast by the sun 

upon a wall." - Leonardo da Vinci

Sounds like he was right! It's not hard to imagine that the first real sketches were inspired by shadows being cast on the wall - which would have been either a cave or a rock - way back when they didn't yet have houses, or walls. Since shadows only give the outlines of objects and conceal the details within, an outline would have been drawn - then they would have filled in the rest to the best of their artistic abilities. 

Leonardo goes into quite a bit of detail about Shade and Shadows in his notebooks. 

"The outlines and form of any part of a body in light and shade are indistinct in the shadows and in the high lights; but in the portions between the light and the shadows they are highly conspicuous."



He doesn't just explore the nature and definition of what a shadow is but set up experiments to ascertain the mathematics and geometry of it. If you think about it shadows are pretty interesting. What are they? Are they something themselves, or the absence of something -Light?

It's a great example of how his scientific studies influenced his art and how his art influenced his science. To properly depict a shadow in a painting you have to know what they are and how they work. By doing that he also was able to understand both shade itself and how to paint them properly. Then it begs the questions: How are they affected by multiple light sources, why are they more distinct with direct light? Why do they change depending on where you are when you're looking at them? If you're in a shadow things look different outside of the shadow - and the same when looking within something shaded. Why? This must have influenced his "Sfumato" painting technique which means "smoke" or a gradient. It's how when a shadow is shaded and goes from shadow to light - that imperceptible transition is what he implemented into his artistic techniques. 

  • Shadow is not the absence of light, merely the obstruction of the luminous rays by an opaque body. Shadow is of the nature of darkness. Light is of the nature of a luminous body; one conceals and the other reveals. They are always associated and inseparable from all objects. But shadow is a more powerful agent than light, for it can impede and entirely deprive bodies of their light, while light can never entirely expel shadow from a body, that is from an opaque body.

  • Shadow is the diminution alike of light and of darkness, and stands between darkness and light.

  • A shadow may be infinitely dark, and also of infinite degrees of absence of darkness. The beginnings and ends of shadow lie between the light and darkness and may be infinitely diminished and infinitely increased. Shadow is the means by which bodies display their form. The forms of bodies could not be understood in detail but for shadow.

  • Shadow partakes of the nature of universal matter. All such matters are more powerful in their beginning and grow weaker towards the end, I say at the beginning, whatever their form or condition may be and whether visible or invisible. And it is not from small beginnings that they grow to a great size in time; as it might be a great oak which has a feeble beginning from a small acorn. Yet I may say that the oak is most powerful at its beginning, that is where it springs from the earth, which is where it is largest

  • Darkness is absence of light. Shadow is diminution of light.

  • Light is the chaser away of darkness. Shade is the obstruction of light. Primary light is that which falls on objects and causes light and shade. And derived lights are those portions of a body which are illuminated by the primary light. A primary shadow is that side of a body on which the light cannot fall.

  • The eye can best distinguish the forms of objects when it is placed between the shaded and the illuminated parts.


  • A single and distinct luminous body causes stronger relief in the object than a diffused light; as may be seen by comparing one side of a landscape illuminated by the sun, and one overshadowed by clouds, and so illuminated only by the diffused light of the atmosphere.

  • The body which is nearest to the light casts the largest shadow, and why? If an object placed in front of a single light is very close to it you will see that it casts a very large shadow on the opposite wall, and the farther you remove the object from the light the smaller will the image of the shadow become.
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