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Picturing a World

Light and composition

We are so used to evenly lit rooms at night that it requires a real act of imagination to visualize stories from the 19th C and earlier as their authors and first readers did. And what about writers of historical or fantasy? Is it pedantic to try to imagine authentic lighting or (pardon the pun) illuminating? How does one convey to a reader what the characters should take for granted?

Right now, I am working on a scene in a room lit only by firelight. This study by Menzel forces me to realize that a dark room prior to electric lighting was very dark indeed. It also shows me what Jeanette might have seen in a studio where the artist was studying the effect of an oil lamp placed under a wall of casts at night. I love having Where the Light Falls continue to expand in my mind.

For a fascinating book on the physical properties of houses and the attitudes they have expressed or induced over the last five hundred years, see The Making of Home by Judith Flanders (2015). She cites a letter from an 18th C Virginian who was astonished by a dinner party where so many candles were lit that they could see everybody at table.

For more of Menzel’s art work, click here.
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