An artist visiting the coliseum in 1824 easily found opportunities for pictures because, they were framed by a legion of arches. Rome’s Forum is bounded by two colossal bookends, two triumphant arches which offered pre-framed views of the Sacra Via. The framing arch was so obvious it became a cliché. Quickly, artists found natural surrogates for the architectural arch in cloud arrangements, overhanging trees and the burning semi circle of solar glare. For centuries theology provided artists with a design rationale for an arching sky, the dome of heaven. Arches in architecture and painting merge in the ceilings of churches from Assisi to Rome.
Two dimensional wall mounted paintings relied on the dome of heaven as well. That dome at night was seen as ultramarine blue because heaven was valuable and dark with its sparkling stars. It had to be painted with gold and ultramarine, the two most expensive ingredients. By the 19th century we still find artists using the dome of heaven, luminous by day, sparkling by night. Albert Bierstadt looks down Yosemite’s valley into the sunlight. The brilliant glare of the sun disseminates its radiance in a dissolving circle of light ( example 1).
The twilight painting of Jean Francois Millet working at same time as Bierstadt but, in the town Barbizon Southeast of Paris, reveals the blue sparkling dome of heaven hovering above a silhouetted landscape. Our eye goes first to the light tucked under the dome then to softly blurred star notes ( example 2). Henry Fuseli gives us a squared circle of light in white forms of mother and child. They are bright attractions because he has surrounded them with soporific darkness (example 3). Henri Fantin Latour, friend of Whistler and Manet, presents the glow of ruffled flowers as they too are overarched by darkness(example 4).
Recycling the Arching sky I take a snap of the ocean then amplify color and value contrasts with paint (example 5. photo of sea followed by example 6. a photo with a darkened surround followed by example 7. painting with fiery arch). I try it again but this time with a blue palette instead of the fiery one (example8.)
My next examples use the dissolving circle of solar radiance as pioneered by Claude, Turner and American artists like Bierstadt. I begin with a photo I snapped on a walk past a New England farm pond at midday. I slowly change the time of day by exaggerating the contrast and building darkness around a central bath of misty light. Example 8 is the photo. Example 9 (pool of light I) is my first stage of dark surrounding light. In Example 10 I press the exaggerations of contrast still further. Here is the painting at present. In example 11 (pool of light II) I have started another painting but, with the same theme and same originating photo. In example 12 you see how I again pressed exaggerations of contrast further isolating the light in a surrounding field of darkness. Like Millet I interrupt the dark surround with floating notes of light.