in the shadows


Victor I. Stoichita, Professor of the History of Modern and Contemporary Art at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, is the author of A Short History of the Shadow (Reaktion, 1997). In exploring the writings of Plato, Pliny, Leonardo, and Piaget, Stoichita explains how the shadow has always been integral to theories of art and knowledge, and investigates the complex psychological meanings we project into shadows. Christopher Turner spoke to him by phone.

Your book is the first study of its kind. Why do you think the subject was previously so overlooked?

I actually started my research with that very question. Just before the publication of my book, an exhibition on shadows was organized at the National Gallery in London, accompanied by a short but interesting text by the late Ernst Gombrich. But previously art historians took a long time in paying attention to shadows because shadows are, so to speak, heavy, dark, and ugly. Perhaps this is because for the Greeks, the shadow was one of the metaphors for the psyche, the soul. A dead person’s soul was compared to a shadow, and Hades was the land of shadows, the land of death.

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