Art and Design

Hidden shapes

Artists often think about geometrical shapes when they compose their pictures. Clive Hicks-Jenkins likes to think about triangles in his paintings. His painting The Virgin of the Goldfinches in Llandaff Cathedral pictures the Bible story of the angel coming to tell Mary that she will have a baby. We asked Clive Hicks-Jenkins about it.

'The Vrigin of the Goldfinches', Llandaff Cathedral

Can you show us where the triangles are in this painting?

There are triangles everywhere, but I can show you some of them in this diagram. There are two equilateral triangles, shown by solid white lines – one pointing up to the distant cliff and one pointing down from the tips of the angel’s wings. Smaller triangles are made where they overlap. A triangle in dashed white lines contains Mary’s figure. The triangle is made up of the tips of the angel’s wings and the bottom of his jacket. The yellow triangle joins the top of the castle with the angel’s knee and Mary’s shoe.


Why do you use triangles?

I like geometrical structure. The lines help your eye to move all around the painting without sliding off the edge.

Can you give an example from this painting?

The two equilateral triangles make the middle of the picture feel calm. The one that points up gives the figures a relationship even though Mary is looking away. The long sides of the other triangles all point at the top right as though the story will continue in the maze and the castle.

Why are they hidden?

If they were obvious they would distract you. I want you to sense the effect of the structure but not see just triangles.