Monday, January 1, 2018

The Macchiaioli and the Lorrain Glass

In both France and in Italy in the late 19th century, painters were using the Lorrain Mirror (also called a Claude Glass) to simplify the values of the landscape and to help see the essentials.

Diego Martelli wrote in 1895:
"It was he [Saverio Altamura] who began to speak in a sibylline and involuted manner of the Ton gris, then in vogue in Paris. At first, everyone listened to him agape. Then they began to follow him along the path that he had indicated, assisting themselves with the black mirror, which decolors the multicolored aspect of nature, thereby permitting the artist to grasp more readily the totality of the chiaroscuro, the macchia."

Macchiaioli. Altamura is second from left in the back row
Quote from The Macchiaioli : Italian Painters of the Nineteenth Century
More on GJ about Lorrain Mirrors


Warren JB said...

Sounds much more sinister than it is!

Looking back at your previous article on Lorrain glasses, I'm a little curious. I was about to ask if modern sunglasses would have the same effect - apparently when used as a makeshift mirror. Are sunglasses generally not dark enough? Is there an advantage to using a reflection compared to a direct view, or was that the fashionable method thanks to groups like the Macchiaioli here?

I think I have a piece of glass made for viewing solar eclipses about here, somewhere. It might be pressed into more regular service.

James Gurney said...

Warren, you can use sunglasses or welding goggles for a quick effect, but of course your eyes eventually adjust. The Lorrain Glass is seen against a brighter background, so the view looks relatively darker. However, a piece of smoked glass held up against the scene would work well.

Unknown said...

You can just look at your smartphone (don't forget to turn off the screen). You can use it as a black mirror.

Matthieu B. said...

I know that value grouping is a technique you often use when sketching. How many values do you usually prefer? I have been experimenting with four values lately (white, black, bright and dark). But that is so few it is a challenge in itself...

James Gurney said...

Leonid, good tip, thanks for the reminder. (Usually my wife carries it and I forget about it).

Matthieu, Four values is great. The fewer values you limit your design to, the more impact it will carry. As an exercise, try limiting it to two or three tones. Sometimes it helps to think of families of values: a light family (with some variation in the tones) and a dark family (very much darker than any in the light family, but still distinguishable from each other).