Luminosity in Art

37 Shares

The definition of luminosity is something full of light, bright, or shining. In art, it refers to the illusion of light from within the painting.

The use of light in a painting can effectively organize a scene and define detail. It can also help create emotion and convey a story. To achieve effective luminosity, light must come from a consistent source. 

You’ll typically see luminosity used to highlight key features in religious scenes, landscapes, and portraits. 

Types of Luminosity

Painted natural and artificial light create luminosity in artworks. 

Sunlight and moonlight are examples of natural light. This type of luminosity is subtle and creates low contrast between light and dark. The shadows dissolve gradually and generate a tranquil setting. Using cool colors for light and warm ones for shadows allows for the illusion of natural light. As seen below, Johannes Vermeer captures daylight with whites and blues.

Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid, c.1660
Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid, c.1660

Candlelight is a common way to show artificial light in a painting. Paintings with artificial light are often dramatic. Paintings with artificial light are often dramatic and use chiaroscuro, the strong contrast between light and dark. The illusion of artificial light creates obscure shadows and intense lighted areas. French painter Georges de La Tour frequently used candles in his religious paintings to create a harsh luminosity.

Georges de La Tour, Saint Joseph the Carpenter, c.1642
Georges de La Tour, Saint Joseph the Carpenter, c.1642

How to Create Luminosity in Art

The following techniques can create luminosity:

  • Layers of transparent paint or glazes
  • Using chiaroscuro to create a high contrast between light and dark
  • Painting a hard edge around an object to soften a close highlight
  • Blurring colors together to create the appearance of light bouncing off an object

Luminism

The use of luminosity inspired the late nineteenth-century art movement of Luminism. Artists working in this style used light to capture moments in time. Focusing on natural light, Luminist works suggested divinity revealed in nature. Most works depict landscapes or waterscapes with light taking up more than half of the composition.

This style used clear colors and intense detail. Artists created glowing light by concealing brushstrokes for a smooth finish. American painter Fitz Henry Lane, one of the most prominent Luminist artists, used meticulous brushwork to paint shimmering and incandescent light.

Fitz Henry Lane, Boston Harbor, 1854
Fitz Henry Lane, Boston Harbor, 1854

Aside from Luminism other art movements such as the Renaissance, Baroque, and Impressionism used light as a significant characteristic.

Examples of Luminosity in Art

Titian’s earlier works incorporated luminous colors and chiaroscuro. As seen in the portrait below, the artist used a bright white color to reflect light. Dark shadows frame the man’s face creating the illusion of light coming from the painting.

Titian, Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap, c. 1510
Titian, Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap, c. 1510

The chiaroscuro of the painting below has a glow coming from the candlelight at the center of the painting. The darkened shadows enhance the blinding light and create a flickering effect.

Joseph Wright of Derby, A Philosopher Lecturing on an Orrery, c. 1766
Joseph Wright of Derby, A Philosopher Lecturing on an Orrery, c. 1766

The soft white light created by blurring edges in Thomas Cole’s waterscape creates an ethereal scene. The warm and dark brown tones of the rest of the painting enhance the luminosity effect.

Thomas Cole, The Voyage of Life Old Age, 1842
Thomas Cole, The Voyage of Life Old Age, 1842

The Impressionist work below uses transparent layers in the water to create the illusion of a reflective surface. Cool blues and greens add depth and enhance the shimmering light effect.

Alfred Sisley, The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne, 1872
Alfred Sisley, The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne, 1872

The white sun painted below by Sanford Robinson Gifford appears to be real. The color of the natural light creates the illusion of a glow when set against the warmer and subtle orange tones around it.

Sanford Robinson Gifford, October in the Catskills, 1880
Sanford Robinson Gifford, October in the Catskills, 1880

The Luminist work below is a different approach to luminosity since there is no obvious light source. The light in the painting comes from the glossiness of the magnolias’ leaves.

Martin Johnson Heade, Magnolias on a Blue Velvet Cloth, c. 1890
Martin Johnson Heade, Magnolias on a Blue Velvet Cloth, c. 1890

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I appreciate it! Feel free to share with friends. If you want more painting tips, check out my Painting Academy course.

Happy painting!

Dan Scott
Draw Paint Academy

[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]