Society

Covering Reality with Gold Leaf

THERE’S SOMETHING QUAINT about the earliest paintings in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. In these religious paintings, you know who is important because of their relative size. The big people are the important ones. The little ones are less important. That seems like a nice simple way to organise the world. Or rather, there’s almost no sense of the world as a real place in these early paintings. That’s partly because the background is gold leaf. At most the figures exist in some very sketchy religious architecture, or they’re assigned little frames, like fragments of a comic strip. They don’t actually have…

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