Monday, January 25, 2010


My area just had a power outage which lasted a couple of hours. This offered an opportunity to light candles and to sit in silence, after the first few minutes of frenzied annoyance at the modern lifelines being cut.

A book about medieval interior decoration (yes, such books exist!) discusses the importance of candles and fire-light as the only real sources of light after dark. Houses were built with small windows in Europe and in the winter the rooms were dusky even through the day.

A modern museum installation shows us rooms of that era in a way the people then living would never have seen. I remembered that during the power outage, because the candles in the room were reflected in anything metal or glass and because of the way the shadows candles created brought out different colors and textures.

Gilded picture frames were not just a way of demonstrating great wealth but part of the overall impact of a painting, a way to bring glitter into the darkness and to cast more light on the picture itself. And copper, brass and silver were not just the raw materials of vases and bowls but also important reflectors of light.