The Iron Forge

7:00 AM

Joseph Wright of Derby, The Iron Forge, 1772

In 1772, in the middle of the First Industrial Revolution, Joseph Wright painted The Iron Forge, one in a series of five paintings in this particular setting. The Iron Forge was contemporary, innovative, and anything but gaudy. This industrial scene exemplifies the change in Britain, pulling the focus from the aristocracy to the working class. Despite the modernity of the painting, Wright’s style appears remnant from a different time. The Iron Forge bears striking resemblance to Caravaggio, with the strong contrasts between light and dark and the austerity of the space. The glowing piece of iron in almost the direct center illuminates the painting with a warm light, yet the effect is ominous. The iron creates a glowing circle of light, illuminating the family in the back and the two men whose fronts we cannot see – the man holding the iron and a mystery man in red with a miserable-looking child on his knee. The utilization of space reminds me of The Calling of Saint Matthew by Caravaggio.

The circle of men at the table and the circle made by the family, the worker, and the glowing iron take up similar space in the paintings. Then there are the subjects in the shadows, Jesus Christ and Saint Peter in Calling of Saint Matthew and the mystery man in The Iron Forge. Both paintings have a heightened sense of drama and urgency. In Saint Matthew, the story makes it dramatic. In Iron Forge, it is the setting that creates the sense of power and danger. For an unconventional painting, maybe Wright’s style didn’t stray too far from tradition after all.

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