Home Introduction Jesus Mary Apostles Saints Spiritual Themes Genesis Moses Deuteronomic History Educating Arte Full new Screen

The Creation

The Creation of Light

Gaetano Previati (1852-1920). Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna. Rome. 1913.

The very beginning lines of the book of Genesis tell that first, God created heaven and earth. But the earth was without form, dark, and a wind swept over the seas. God said, ‘Let there be light’, and then there was light. God saw that light was good, so he divided the light from the darkness and called light ‘day’ and darkness ‘night’. This was the first day.

Thus was created light, the fundamental feature of nature that painters need for their craft. Without light there can be no paintings and some painters of the nineteenth century reflected on this with new insight. How exactly did light create colours, how were impressions of hues created from areas of paint?

Gaetano Previati was born in Ferrara, Italy. In 1870 he followed the courses of the Academy of Fine Arts there, but was called to military service from 1873 to 1876 in Livorno. Only in 1877 could he continue to study at the Brera Academy of Milan. Previati first worked on Romantic history paintings but gradually he developed a strong feeling for the expressive powers of colour only. He worked at Christian themes, acknowledged and was sensitive to the powerful influences of the scenes of the New Testament, which fascinated him in a mysterious way. In this search and also abandonment to the mystic undercurrents in the themes of the Bible he approached the theorists of Symbolism. He participated in the first Salon of the Rose+Croix of 1892 founded by the Sâr Péladan. In the beginning of the 1890’s his experimenting with colour led him also to the theory of Divisionism, as discovered somewhat earlier by French painters like Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. With the advice of an Italian art critic, Vittore Grubicy de Dragon, he elaborated on and applied the theory of Divisionism in his paintings. A Divisionist painting of his exhibited at the Triennale of Milan in 1891 provoked violent polemics in Italian art circles. From then on Previati continued to work in the Divisionist style of using just a few primary colours such as red, blue and green, and adding yellow. By separating and juxtaposing small strokes of these hues he created vibrating effects of luminosity in paintings, which had to be viewed from a distance of a few metres to really come to splendour. Which painter could more suitably make a picture on the creation of light?

Gaetano Previati made a picture of the moment when God created light, the beginning of creation. We must first note Previati’s technique of applying colour paint on the canvas. Previati placed thin strokes of paint one next to the other. The juxtaposed strokes were mostly of a different hue, but one hue or a set of hues might dominate over a relatively large area. The overall hue of these areas then might contract strongly or contrast only in tone and intensity. Previati preferred in many paintings one dominant hue of just a few dominant hues, to create a dominant mood. That was his technique of Divisionism.

Previati’s picture ‘The Creation of Light’ dates from 1913, when he was over sixty years old. This was a time in his career when he had perfected his style. By then also he had reached a moment when he was well known in Italy, did not have to prove anymore his skills and artistic value. He could freely depict scenes of high symbolic content. He painted many religious themes, which carried often a mystic meaning.

In the ‘Creation of light’ we see yellow-white, almost golden rays fill the frame from out of one point, which lies not in but out of the frame. Here, to suggest the rays, Previati applied very long brushstrokes, always thin, of bright, golden yellow and white lines. These become of a somewhat darker tone towards the top of the painting so that the viewer receives also an impression of a direction in the rays and of space, of an upwards movement of the easy. The rays also spread out from their origin, enhancing the perception of space. Light created space for Gaetano Previati. He used two main hues: yellow in the rays, soft purple or a close hue of soft red-orange in God and the angels. The mood of the picture radiates a kind of muted melancholy by which Previati reflected on the awakening of the creation. The mood of the painting shows how Previati painted not a realistic scene of God and angels, but expressed his profound personal feelings generated by the subject. The mind-image of Previati is as much emotion, sensitivity, and receptivity to the mysterious power that always radiates from the Bible when one reads it with a mind given over to its mysticism. The ‘Creation of Light’ is how Previati perceived the subject by emotion through his inner eye, and then expressed it in a particular form of art, Divisionism, which was very suitable for this expression.

We see God surrounded by angels, floating in the void of the light just created. Previati showed God in the traditional way, as an old man with a long grey-white beard. But except for an arm, a leg, God is rather formless. His body is hidden in a cloak of long curved blue-red, purple lines or brushstrokes, which we perceive also in the angels. Previati maybe remembered form the Bible that the angels were simply a realisation of God on earth, in a form recognisable by humans. Previati painted the angels thus very much as an integrated part of God. Still, the angels are either a girl with wings or – again represented in a traditional way – little putti, children. The angels touch and tear at god, seemingly getting energy from his presence. God seems to drowse, as if he also were by the creation being created and taking form. This was not only an interesting and debatable concept for theology; it might have also been a reflection theme for Previati on the creation of paintings. Are the angels awakening God and his creation so that God takes conscience, knowledge of his work, or are they now also taking life and existence form God? Does light create paintings and was Previati just an instrument of the action of light? Did painters of Previati’s time only, for the first time, understand the action of light? Could new mysteries be solved and effects of paint be discovered to create breakthroughs in the art of painting? Previati experimented with light and its effects. He was awakening to the secrets of light, like God in the surprise of his own creation of light. It was good to do so.

Gaetano Previati painted a picture that is a marvel of luminosity and splendour of colours when seen from a distance. By the technique he used the rays seem to shimmer and to move upwards. In this movement, God is suspended. God and angels float. The ‘Creation of Light’ is a stunning overdose of hues and brilliance that hits any viewer. Thus, Previati imagined the first moment of the creation and of light, and God glorifying and warming in this radiance. Light was good for God and for Gaetano Previati. God created light and light made paintings possible.

Other paintings:

Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2007
Book Next Previous

Copyright: René Dewil - All rights reserved. The electronic form of this document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source as 'René Dewil - The Art of Painting - Copyright'. No permission is granted for commercial use and if you would like to reproduce this work for commercial purposes in all or in part, in any form, as in selling it as a book or published compilation, then you must ask for my permission formally and separately.