Is anything known about how Rembrandt manipulated light in his studios?
This intriguing drawing by Rembrandt (Ben. 1161, two reproductions included for contrast) is thought to show the studio in his home. The Rembrandt Museum has reconstructed this scene,suggesting that the curved curtain was part of his method for lighting models.
Rembrandt’s house was divided and heavily remodeled over time, so the reconstruction is somewhat uncertain. It’s an important question to me whether his studio received direct sunlight, because I think there are reasons to think this may show the use of mirrors or metal to reflect direct sunlight. It’s pretty speculative, but interesting to consider.
A second day of straight rain in Tucson, too grim for painting. I am procrastinating on getting some framing done (I hate framing), and always get obsessively interested in something when I am avoiding things! A story of sunlight for a gray day…
Is it plausible that Rembrandt (and other artists of his time) might have lit people sometimes with an arrangement of reflected light? The method has attractive qualities for an artist with no access to fresnel lights: adjustable from classic to dramatic angles, adjustable in strength (by polishing the metal) and color temperature (by using different metals), adjustable over time (to a degree) to keep a constant light, adjustable to send light undiminished into any part of a large room. It can make classic Rembrandt portrait lighting and also the dramatic effects seen in Rembrandt’s narrative painting (if he used maquettes, anyway; spotlight effects can be made with this setup and gobos).
Rembrandt light has long been invoked as the most beautiful light for faces, but it can be quite hard to achieve in the studio with natural light if you want a good match. Most artists I know who paint or draw portraits from life use artificial light. An ideal result is one that comes close in the nature of both shadows and color, and is consistent for a session with a model. Good Rembrandt light shows some degree of cast shadow with a soft edge, which requires a fairly strong light source, along with skin tone ranging from very warm to neutral, not cold or gray.
In terms of shadow features, north light is only close if the subject is quite near the window. In terms of color, I think north light is far too cold. It’s great for lighting your canvas, but not a face. North light is even and consistent for a modeling session, but its other problems make it unworkable for my taste. Direct sunlight is far too hard-edged for the shadow structure, though color is closer. Diffused direct sunlight can create a workable shadow structure and color, but the direction of light changes pretty quickly.