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THE GETTY MUSEUM EXPLORES THE REPRESENTATION OF NOCTURNAL LIGHT IN WORKS OF ART
FROM THE 1400s TO THE 1600s

Radiant Darkness: The Art of Nocturnal Light
At the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Center, April 24-July 22, 2007

April 23, 2007

LOS ANGELES—For centuries artists have displayed their technical virtuosity by composing scenes in which light penetrates darkness.  Beginning this month, the J. Paul Getty Museum presents Radiant Darkness: The Art of Nocturnal Light, exploring the representation of light in darkness by artists from the 1400s to the 1600s, including Rembrandt van Rijn, Aert van der Neer, Hendrik Goudt and Giovanni Battista Gaulli called Baciccio.  Radiant Darkness features 21 works of various media, divided into four thematic sections: divine light, candlelight, firelight, and moonlight. 

Nocturnal light—whether its source is divine, artificial, or natural—has held myriad symbolic associations beyond its merely functional role.  Artists often used divine light to heighten the drama of religious scenes.  Candlelight afforded the opportunity to render naturalistic details on an intimate scale.  Fire represented religious punishment or political power, and moonlight imbued landscape scenes with lyrical intensity.  The works in this exhibition demonstrate how artists represented nocturnal illumination to convey aesthetic and emotional sensations ranging from the poetic to the foreboding.

Highlights from the exhibition include Francesco Vanni’s The Nativity, which dramatically juxtaposes luminous white gouache heightening with warm reddish wash to portray Christ’s divinity.  The single lit candle in The Astronomer by Candlelight, allows Gerrit Dou to show off his virtuosic ability to render textures and reflections while at the same time suggest the brevity of life through the flickering flame of the candle.  Simon Bening’s The Denial of Saint Peter shows how the naturalistic depiction of firelight heightens the emotional intensity of the religious scene.  The silvery-orange of the moonlight in Aert van der Neer’s Moonlit Landscape with a View of the New Amstel River and Castle Kostverloren, eclipses the stars and imbues the landscape with poetic intensity.

Radiant Darkness: The Art of Nocturnal Light includes work from the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Grunwald Center for Graphic Arts at the Hammer Museum, and the Huntington Art Collections.  The exhibition is curated by Stephanie Schrader and Jaya Remond from the Drawings Department at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

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