• The term is less frequently used of art after the late nineteenth century, although the Expressionist and other modern movements make great use of the effect.

  • The term is mostly used to describe compositions where at least some principal elements of the main composition show the transition between light and dark, as in the Baglioni
    and Geertgen tot Sint Jans paintings illustrated above and below.

  • Chiaroscuro modelling is now taken for granted, but it has had some opponents; namely: the English portrait miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard cautioned in his treatise on painting
    against all but the minimal use we see in his works, reflecting the views of his patron Queen Elizabeth I of England: “seeing that best to show oneself needeth no shadow of place but rather the open light…

  • [11] When discussing Italian art, the term sometimes is used to mean painted images in monochrome or two colours, more generally known in English by the French equivalent,

  • [1] Similar effects in cinema, and black and white and low-key photography, are also called chiaroscuro.

  • It is also a technical term used by artists and art historians for the use of contrasts of light to achieve a sense of volume in modelling three-dimensional objects and figures.

  • [14] The Raphael painting illustrated, with light coming from the left, demonstrates both delicate modelling chiaroscuro to give volume to the body of the model, and strong
    chiaroscuro in the more common sense, in the contrast between the well-lit model and the very dark background of foliage.

  • As the Tate puts it: “Chiaroscuro is generally only remarked upon when it is a particularly prominent feature of the work, usually when the artist is using extreme contrasts
    of light and shade”.

  • Hall,[12] which has gained considerable acceptance,[13] chiaroscuro is one of four modes of painting colours available to Italian High Renaissance painters, along with cangiante,
    sfumato and unione.

  • As with some later painters, in their hands the effect was of stillness and calm rather than the drama with which it would be used during the Baroque.

  • The technique also survived in rather crude standardized form in Byzantine art and was refined again in the Middle Ages to become standard by the early fifteenth-century in
    painting and manuscript illumination in Italy and Flanders, and then spread to all Western art.

  • Especially since the strong twentieth-century rise in the reputation of Caravaggio, in non-specialist use the term is mainly used for strong chiaroscuro effects such as his,
    or Rembrandt’s.

  • He relied less on the sharp contrasts of light and dark that marked the Italian influences of the earlier generation, a factor found in his mid-seventeenth-century etchings.

  • After some early experiments in book-printing, the true chiaroscuro woodcut conceived for two blocks was probably first invented by Lucas Cranach the Elder in Germany in 1508
    or 1509, though he backdated some of his first prints and added tone blocks to some prints first produced for monochrome printing, swiftly followed by Hans Burgkmair the Elder.

  • [25][26] Cinema and photography Chiaroscuro is used in cinematography for extreme low key and high-contrast lighting to create distinct areas of light and darkness in films,
    especially in black and white films.

  • Much of the celebrated film noir tradition relies on techniques related to chiaroscuro that Toland perfected in the early 1930s (though high-key lighting, stage lighting,
    frontal lighting, and other film noir effects are interspersed in ways that diminish the chiaroscuro claim).

  • At the end of the century Fuseli and others used a heavier chiaroscuro for romantic effect, as did Delacroix and others in the nineteenth century.

  • Such works are called “chiaroscuro drawings”, but may only be described in modern museum terminology by such formulae as “pen on prepared paper, heightened with white bodycolour”.

  • Manuscript illumination was, as in many areas, especially experimental in attempting ambitious lighting effects since the results were not for public display.

  • The use of dark subjects dramatically lit by a shaft of light from a single constricted and often unseen source, was a compositional device developed by Ugo da Carpi (c. 1455
    – c. 1523), Giovanni Baglione (1566–1643), and Caravaggio (1571–1610), the last of whom was crucial in developing the style of tenebrism, where dramatic chiaroscuro becomes a dominant stylistic device.

  • The term broadened in meaning early on to cover all strong contrasts in illumination between light and dark areas in art, which is now the primary meaning.

  • Although few Ancient Greek paintings survive, their understanding of the effect of light modelling still may be seen in the late-fourth-century BC mosaics of Pella, Macedonia,
    in particular the Stag Hunt Mosaic, in the House of the Abduction of Helen, inscribed gnosis epoesen, or ‘knowledge did it’.

  • To further complicate matters, however, the compositional chiaroscuro of the contrast between model and background probably would not be described using this term, as the
    two elements are almost completely separated.

  • Chiaroscuro modelling[edit] Detail of La Fornarina (1518–19) by Raphael, shows delicate modelling chiaroscuro in the body of the model, for example in the shoulder, breast,
    and arm on the right The more technical use of the term chiaroscuro is the effect of light modelling in painting, drawing, or printmaking, where three-dimensional volume is suggested by the value gradation of colour and the analytical division
    of light and shadow shapes—often called “shading”.

  • History Origin in the chiaroscuro drawing[edit] Christ at Rest, by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1519, a chiaroscuro drawing using pen, ink, and brush, washes, white heightening,
    on ochre prepared paper The term chiaroscuro originated during the Renaissance as drawing on coloured paper, where the artist worked from the paper’s base tone toward light using white gouache, and toward dark using ink, bodycolour or watercolour.

  • They were first produced to achieve similar effects to chiaroscuro drawings.

  • Rembrandt van Rijn’s (1606–1669) early works from the 1620s also adopted the single-candle light source.

  • Adam Elsheimer (1578–1610), a German artist living in Rome, produced several night scenes lit mainly by fire, and sometimes moonlight.

  • Use of the term The French use of the term, clair-obscur, was introduced by the seventeenth-century art-critic Roger de Piles in the course of a famous argument (Débat sur
    le coloris), on the relative merits of drawing and colour in painting (his Dialogues sur le coloris, 1673,[23] was a key contribution to the Débat).

  • Later artists such as Goltzius sometimes made use of it.

  • In more highly developed photographic processes, the technique may be termed “ambient/natural lighting”, although when done so for the effect, the look is artificial and not
    generally documentary in nature.

  • [20] Another view states that: “Lucas Cranach backdated two of his works in an attempt to grab the glory” and that the technique was invented “in all probability” by Burgkmair
    “who was commissioned by the emperor Maximilian to find a cheap and effective way of getting the imperial image widely disseminated as he needed to drum up money and support for a crusade”.

  • The natural, unaugmented lighting of the sets in the film exemplified low-key, natural lighting in filmwork at its most extreme, outside of the Eastern European/Soviet filmmaking
    tradition (itself exemplified by the harsh low-key lighting style employed by Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein).


Works Cited

[‘Glossary of the National Gallery, London [1] (accessed 23 October 2011)
2. ^ “Chiaroscuro in Art: What Is the Chiaroscuro Technique?”.
3. ^ “Caravaggio, between shadows and light”. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
4. ^ Hall, Marcia
B. (1987). Color and Technique in Renaissance Painting: Italy and the North. J.J. Augustin.
5. ^ “Chiaroscuro in Painting: The Power of Light and Dark”. 2007-07-20. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
6. ^ “Johannes Vermeer”. Artble. Retrieved
7. ^ “Francisco Goya – Spanish Culture”. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
8. ^ Harvard Art Museum glossary (accessed 30 August 2007). See also Metropolitan external link
9. ^ Example from the Metropolitan Archived December
20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
10. ^ “Holbein in England – Tate”. Archived from the original on 2011-12-17. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
11. ^ David Landau & Peter Parshall, The Renaissance Print, pp. 180–84; Yale, 1996, ISBN 0-300-06883-2
– discusses these at length. Also see Metropolitan external link.
12. ^ Hall, Marcia B. (1994). Color and Meaning: Practice and Theory in Renaissance Painting. New York, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-45733-0.
13. ^ “Four Canonical
Painting Modes by APA”.. Retrieved June 18, 2015.
14. ^ Hall, Marcia B., Rome (series “Artistic Centers of the Italian Renaissance”), pp. 148–150, 2005, Cambridge University Press, 2005, ISBN 0521624452, 9780521624459, google books
15. ^ Quotation
from Hilliard’s Art of Limming, c. 1600, in Nicholas Hilliard, Roy Strong, 2002, p. 24, Michael Joseph Ltd, London, ISBN 0-7181-1301-2
16. ^ Landau and Parshall, 179–192; Renaissance Impressions: Chiaroscuro Woodcuts from the Collections of Georg
Baselitz and the Albertina, Vienna, Royal Academy, London, March–June 2014, exhibition guide.
17. ^ Steiff (1891). “Schott, Johannes”. Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (in German). Vol. 32. pp. 402–404. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
18. ^ Landau and
Parshall, 150
19. ^ “Ugo da Carpi after Parmigianino: Diogenes (17.50.1) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art”. 2012-02-03. Retrieved 2012-02-18.
20. ^ Emison, Patricia A. (2012). The Italian Renaissance
and Cultural Memory. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 105–107. ISBN 978-1-107-00526-6.
21. ^ Brown, Mark (11 March 2014). “Revolutionary chiaroscuro woodcuts win first British exhibition”. The Guardian. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
22. ^
David Landau & Peter Parshall, The Renaissance Print, pp. 179–202; 273–81 & passim; Yale, 1996, ISBN 0-300-06883-2
23. ^ Le rubénisme en Europe aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, Volume 16 of Museums at the Crossroads, Michèle-Caroline Heck, University
of Michigan, Brepols, 2005
24. ^ “Chiaro-Scuro”, Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. II (1st ed.), Edinburgh: Colin Macfarquhar, 1771.
25. ^ Tate Glossary. Retrieved 30 August 2007.
26. ^ For the history of the term, see Verbraeken, René (1979).
Clair-obscur, histoire d’un mot. Nogent-le-Roi: J. Laget. ISBN 2-85497-021-7.
27. ^ “Chiaroscurro in German Expressionism”.
28. ^ “Victorian Studies Bulletin”. Northeast Victorian Studies Association, v. 9–11, 1985. 1984
2. David Landau & Peter
Parshall, The Renaissance Print, pp. 179–202; 273–81 & passim; Yale, 1996, ISBN 0-300-06883-2
Photo credit:’]