Jul 6, 2009
What is "Chiaroscuro "
Examples of Chiaroscuro by Rembrandt
chi⋅a⋅ro⋅scu⋅ro Pronunciation (kee-ahr-uh-skyoor-oh)
Chiaroscuro (Italian for light-dark) is a term in art for a contrast between light and dark. The term is usually applied to bold contrasts affecting a whole composition, but is also more technically used by artists and art historians for the use of effects representing contrasts of light, not necessarily strong, to achieve a sense of volume in modeling three-dimensional objects such as the human body.
Further specialised uses of the term are "chiaroscuro woodcut", used for coloured woodcuts printed with different blocks, each using a different coloured ink, and "chiaroscuro drawing" used for drawings on coloured paper with drawing in a dark medium and white highlighting. The term is now also used in describing similar effects in the lighting of cinema and photography.
Origin in the chiaroscuro drawing
The term originated as a name for a type of Renaissance drawing on coloured paper, where the artist worked from this base tone towards light, with white gouache, and dark, with ink, bodycolour or watercolour.. These in turn drew on traditions in illuminated manuscripts, going back to late Roman Imperial manuscripts on purple-dyed vellum. Chiaroscuro woodcuts began as imitations of this technique. When discussing Italian art, the term is sometimes used to mean painted images in monochrome or two colours, more generally known in English by the French equivalent, grisaille. The term early broadened in meaning to cover all strong contrasts in illumination between light and dark areas in art, which is now the primary meaning.
Manuscript illumination was, as in many areas, especially experimental in attempting ambitious lighting effects, as the results were not for public display. The development of compositional chiaroscuro received a considerable impetus in Northern Europe from the vision of the Nativity of Jesus of Saint Bridget of Sweden, a very popular mystic. She described the infant Jesus as emitting light himself; depictions increasingly reduced other light sources in the scene to emphasize this effect, and the Nativity remained very commonly treated with chiaroscuro through to the Baroque. Hugo van der Goes and his followers painted many scenes lit only by candle, or the divine light from the infant Christ. As with some later painters, in their hands the effect was of stillness and calm rather than the drama of the Baroque.
Strong chiaroscuro became a popular effect during the sixteenth century, in Mannerism and in Baroque art. Divine light continued to illuminate, often rather inadequately, the compositions of Tintoretto, Veronese and their many followers. 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 (1573-1610), the last of whom was crucial in developing the style of tenebrism, where dramatic chiaroscuro becomes a dominant stylistic device.
Rembrandt's early works from the 1620s also adopted the single-candle light source. The nocturnal candle-lit scene re-emerged in the Dutch Republic in the mid 17th century on a smaller scale in the works of fijnschilders such as Gerrit Dou and Gottfried Schalken.
Rembrandt's own interest in effects of darkness shifted in his mature works. 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-17th century etchings. In that medium he shared many similarities with his contemporary in Italy, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, whose work in printmaking led him to invent the monotype.
Outside the Low Countries, artists such as Georges de La Tour and Trophime Bigot in France and Joseph Wright of Derby in England, carried on with such strong, but graduated, candlelight chiaroscuro. Watteau used a gentle chiaroscuro in the leafy backgrounds of his fêtes galantes, and this was continued in pictures by many French artists, notably Fragonard). 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.