Shadow Paintings: A Neglected Type of Wall Painting

  • Elisabeth Andersen Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU), Oslo
  • Susanne Kaun Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU), Oslo


The article presents the results of a pilot study focusing on what are called shadow paintings in Norwegian church interiors from the 17th and 18th centuries. Among the many Baroque illusionistic wall paintings in churches, painted shadows are probably the least known and considered. Shadow paintings are grey or black paintings that surround church furnishings, such as altarpieces, epitaphs and sculptures, as well as pulpits and stalls. They create an illusion of light by “casting” a shadow behind an object, thus enlarging and accentuating the object. Most of the original shadow paintings were overpainted or removed during the 19th century, but in the 20th century many were rediscovered and successively revealed. Remnants of shadow paintings are found in several northern European countries. In Norway, nineteen visible shadow paintings have been preserved, offering an understanding of how these wall paintings were formed, executed and popularized. Aside from their decorative character, painted shadows can supply greater knowledge about the church furnishings. But above all, shadow paintings are relics of an age when light – both natural and spiritual – created a more dramatic expression within churches.

How to Cite
ANDERSEN, Elisabeth; KAUN, Susanne. Shadow Paintings: A Neglected Type of Wall Painting. ICO Iconographisk Post. Nordisk tidskrift för bildtolkning – Nordic Review of Iconography, [S.l.], n. 3-4, p. 40-56, may 2019. ISSN 2323-5586. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 15 june 2024.