Chiaroscuro (English: /( ) / kee-AR-ə-SKOOR-oh, -SKEWR-, Italian: [ˌkjaroˈskuːro] ; Italian for '"light-dark"'), in art, is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. 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. Similar effects in cinema and photography also are called chiaroscuro.
Further specialized uses of the term include chiaroscuro woodcut for coloured woodcuts printed with different blocks, each using a different coloured ink; and chiaroscuro drawing for drawings on coloured paper in a dark medium with white highlighting.
The underlying principle is that solidity of form is best achieved by the light falling against it. Artists known for developing the technique include Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio and Rembrandt. It is a mainstay of black and white and low-key photography. It is one of the modes of painting colour in Renaissance art (alongside cangiante, sfumato and unione).Artists well-known for their use of chiaroscuro include Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Vermeer, and Goya.
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.These in turn drew on traditions in illuminated manuscripts going back to late Roman Imperial manuscripts on purple-dyed vellum. 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". Chiaroscuro woodcuts began as imitations of this technique. 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, grisaille. 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.
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". The invention of these effects in the West, "skiagraphia" or "shadow-painting" to the Ancient Greeks, traditionally was ascribed to the famous Athenian painter of the fifth century BC, Apollodoros. 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'.
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.
According to the theory of the art historian Marcia B. Hall,which has gained considerable acceptance, chiaroscuro is one of four modes of painting colours available to Italian High Renaissance painters, along with cangiante , sfumato and unione .
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. 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. 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... Her Majesty... chose her place to sit for that purpose in the open alley of a goodly garden, where no tree was near, nor any shadow at all..."
In drawings and prints, modelling chiaroscuro often is achieved by the use of hatching, or shading by parallel lines. Washes, stipple or dotting effects, and "surface tone" in printmaking are other techniques.
Chiaroscuro woodcuts are old master prints in woodcut using two or more blocks printed in different colours; they do not necessarily feature strong contrasts of light and dark. They were first produced to achieve similar effects to chiaroscuro drawings. 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.Despite Vasari's claim for Italian precedence in Ugo da Carpi, it is clear that his, the first Italian examples, date to around 1516 But other sources suggest, the first chiaroscuro woodcut to be the Triumph of Julius Caesar, which was created by Andrea Mantegna, an Italian painter, between 1470 and 1500. 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".
Other printmakers who have used this technique include Hans Wechtlin, Hans Baldung Grien, and Parmigianino. In Germany, the technique achieved its greatest popularity around 1520, but it was used in Italy throughout the sixteenth century. Later artists such as Goltzius sometimes made use of it. In most German two-block prints, the keyblock (or "line block") was printed in black and the tone block or blocks had flat areas of colour. In Italy, chiaroscuro woodcuts were produced without keyblocks to achieve a very different effect.
Manuscript illumination was, as in many areas, especially experimental in attempting ambitious lighting effects since 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; 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 with which it would be used during the Baroque.
Strong chiaroscuro became a popular effect during the sixteenth century in Mannerism and Baroque art. Divine light continued to illuminate, often rather inadequately, the compositions of Tintoretto, Veronese, and their many followers. 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.
Tenebrism was especially practiced in Spain and the Spanish-ruled Kingdom of Naples, by Jusepe de Ribera and his followers. Adam Elsheimer (1578–1610), a German artist living in Rome, produced several night scenes lit mainly by fire, and sometimes moonlight. Unlike Caravaggio's, his dark areas contain very subtle detail and interest. The influences of Caravaggio and Elsheimer were strong on Peter Paul Rubens, who exploited their respective approaches to tenebrosity for dramatic effect in paintings such as The Raising of the Cross (1610–1611). Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1656), a Baroque artist who was a follower of Caravaggio, was also an outstanding exponent of tenebrism and chiaroscuro.
A particular genre that developed was the nocturnal scene lit by candlelight, which looked back to earlier northern artists such as Geertgen tot Sint Jans and more immediately, to the innovations of Caravaggio and Elsheimer. This theme played out with many artists from the Low Countries in the first few decades of the seventeenth century, where it became associated with the Utrecht Caravaggisti such as Gerrit van Honthorst and Dirck van Baburen, and with Flemish Baroque painters such as Jacob Jordaens. Rembrandt van Rijn's (1606–1669) 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-seventeenth 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-seventeenth-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 paintings 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.
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,was a key contribution to the Débat).
In English, the Italian term has been used since at least the late seventeenth century. 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.
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. 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".Photography and cinema also have adopted the term. For the history of the term, see René Verbraeken, Clair-obscur, histoire d’un mot (Nogent-le-Roi, 1979).
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Chiaroscuro also is used in cinematography to indicate extreme low key and high-contrast lighting to create distinct areas of light and darkness in films, especially in black and white films. Classic examples are The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Nosferatu (1922), Metropolis (1927) The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), and the black and white scenes in Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker (1979).
For example, in Metropolis , chiaroscuro lighting is used to create contrast between light and dark mise-en-scene and figures. The effect of this is primarily to highlight the differences between the capitalist elite and the workers.
In photography, chiaroscuro can be achieved with the use of "Rembrandt lighting". In more highly developed photographic processes, this technique also may be termed "ambient/natural lighting", although when done so for the effect, the look is artificial and not generally documentary in nature. In particular, Bill Henson along with others, such as W. Eugene Smith, Josef Koudelka, Garry Winogrand, Lothar Wolleh, Annie Leibovitz, Floria Sigismondi, and Ralph Gibson may be considered some of the modern masters of chiaroscuro in documentary photography.
Perhaps the most direct intended use of chiaroscuro in filmmaking would be Stanley Kubrick's 1975 film Barry Lyndon .When informed that no lens currently had a wide enough aperture to shoot a costume drama set in grand palaces using only candlelight, Kubrick bought and retrofitted a special lens for these purposes: a modified Mitchell BNC camera and a Zeiss lens manufactured for the rigors of space photography, with a maximum aperture of f/.7. The naturally unaugmented lighting situations 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).
Sven Nykvist, the longtime collaborator of Ingmar Bergman, also informed much of his photography with chiaroscuro realism, as did Gregg Toland, who influenced such cinematographers as László Kovács, Vilmos Zsigmond, and Vittorio Storaro with his use of deep and selective focus augmented with strong horizon-level key lighting penetrating through windows and doorways. Much of the celebrated film noir tradition relies on techniques Toland perfected in the early thirties that are related to chiaroscuro (though high-key lighting, stage lighting, frontal lighting, and other effects are interspersed in ways that diminish the chiaroscuro claim).
Chiaroscuro in modelling; paintings
Chiaroscuro in modelling; prints and drawings
Chiaroscuro as a major element in composition: painting
Chiaroscuro as a major element in composition: photography
Chiaroscuro drawings and woodcuts
Printmaking is the process of creating artworks by printing, normally on paper. Printmaking normally covers only the process of creating prints that have an element of originality, rather than just being a photographic reproduction of a painting. Except in the case of monotyping, the process is capable of producing multiples of the same piece, which is called a print. Each print produced is considered an "original" work of art, and is correctly referred to as an "impression", not a "copy". Often impressions vary considerably, whether intentionally or not. The images on most prints are created for that purpose, perhaps with a preparatory study such as a drawing. A print that copies another work of art, especially a painting, is known as a "reproductive print".
Woodcut is a relief printing technique in printmaking. An artist carves an image into the surface of a block of wood—typically with gouges—leaving the printing parts level with the surface while removing the non-printing parts. Areas that the artist cuts away carry no ink, while characters or images at surface level carry the ink to produce the print. The block is cut along the wood grain. The surface is covered with ink by rolling over the surface with an ink-covered roller (brayer), leaving ink upon the flat surface but not in the non-printing areas.
Sfumato is a painting technique for softening the transition between colours, mimicking an area beyond what the human eye is focusing on, or the out-of-focus plane. Leonardo da Vinci was the most prominent practitioner of sfumato, based on his research in optics and human vision, and his experimentation with the camera obscura. He used it in many works, including the Virgin of the Rocks and in his famous painting of the Mona Lisa. He described sfumato as "without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke or beyond the focus plane".
Renaissance art is the painting, sculpture and decorative arts of the period of European history, emerging as a distinct style in Italy in about 1400, in parallel with developments which occurred in philosophy, literature, music, science and technology. Renaissance art, perceived as the noblest of ancient traditions, took as its foundation the art of Classical antiquity, but transformed that tradition by absorbing recent developments in the art of Northern Europe and by applying contemporary scientific knowledge. Renaissance art, with Renaissance humanist philosophy, spread throughout Europe, affecting both artists and their patrons with the development of new techniques and new artistic sensibilities. Renaissance art marks the transition of Europe from the medieval period to the Early Modern age.
The Caravaggisti were stylistic followers of the late 16th-century Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio. His influence on the new Baroque style that eventually emerged from Mannerism was profound. Caravaggio never established a workshop as most other painters did, and thus had no school to spread his techniques. Nor did he ever set out his underlying philosophical approach to art, the psychological realism which can only be deduced from his surviving work. But it can be seen directly or indirectly in the work of Rubens, Jusepe de Ribera, Bernini, and Rembrandt. Famous while he lived, Caravaggio himself was forgotten almost immediately after his death. Many of his paintings were reascribed to his followers, such as The Taking of Christ, which was attributed to the Dutch painter Gerrit van Honthorst until 1990. It was only in the 20th century that his importance to the development of Western art was rediscovered. In the 1920s Roberto Longhi once more placed him in the European tradition: "Ribera, Vermeer, La Tour and Rembrandt could never have existed without him. And the art of Delacroix, Courbet and Manet would have been utterly different". The influential Bernard Berenson stated: "With the exception of Michelangelo, no other Italian painter exercised so great an influence."
Tenebrism, from Italian tenebroso, also occasionally called dramatic illumination, is a style of painting using especially pronounced chiaroscuro, where there are violent contrasts of light and dark, and where darkness becomes a dominating feature of the image. The technique was developed to add drama to an image through a spotlight effect, and is common in Baroque paintings. Tenebrism is used only to obtain a dramatic impact while chiaroscuro is a broader term, also covering the use of less extreme contrasts of light to enhance the illusion of three-dimensionality.
Camaïeu is a technique that employs two or three tints of a single color, other than gray, to create a monochromatic image without regard to local or realistic color. When a picture is monochromatically rendered in gray, it is called grisaille; when in yellow, cirage.
Intaglio is the family of printing and printmaking techniques in which the image is incised into a surface and the incised line or sunken area holds the ink. It is the direct opposite of a relief print, where the parts of the matrix that make the image stand above the main surface.
Adam Elsheimer was a German artist working in Rome who died at only thirty-two, but was very influential in the early 17th century in the field of Baroque paintings. His relatively few paintings were small scale, nearly all painted on copper plates, of the type often known as cabinet paintings. They include a variety of light effects, and an innovative treatment of landscape. He was an influence on many other artists, including Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens.
Hans Burgkmair the Elder (1473–1531) was a German painter and woodcut printmaker.
Apollodorus Skiagraphos was an influential Ancient Greek painter of the 5th century BC whose work has since been entirely lost. Apollodorus left a technique behind known as skiagraphia, a way to easily produce shadow, that affected the works not only of his contemporaries but also of later generations. This shading technique uses hatched areas to give the illusion of both shadow and volume.
The Adoration of the Shepherds is an oil on canvas painting by the Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi, commonly known as Caravaggio. The Adoration of the Shepherds measures 83.07 x 123.62 in. It was commissioned for the Capuchin Franciscans and was painted in Messina for the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in 1609 just one year before the artist's death. It is now in the Interdisciplinary Regional Museum of Messina.
Line engraving is a term for engraved images printed on paper to be used as prints or illustrations. The term is mainly used in connection with 18th or 19th century commercial illustrations for magazines and books or reproductions of paintings. It is not a technical term in printmaking, and can cover a variety of techniques, giving similar results.
An old master print is a work of art produced by a printing process within the Western tradition. The term remains current in the art trade, and there is no easy alternative in English to distinguish the works of "fine art" produced in printmaking from the vast range of decorative, utilitarian and popular prints that grew rapidly alongside the artistic print from the 15th century onwards. Fifteenth-century prints are sufficiently rare that they are classed as old master prints even if they are of crude or merely workmanlike artistic quality. A date of about 1830 is usually taken as marking the end of the period whose prints are covered by this term.
Jost de Negker was a cutter of woodcuts and also a printer and publisher of prints during the early 16th century, mostly in Augsburg, Germany. He was a leading "formschneider" or blockcutter of his day, but always to the design of an artist. He is "closely tied to the evolution of the fine woodcut in Northern Europe". For Adam von Bartsch, although he did not usually design or draw, the quality of his work, along with that of Hans Lützelburger and Hieronymus Andreae, was such that he should be considered as an artist. Some prints where the designer is unknown are described as by de Negker, but it is assumed there was an artist who drew the design, although it has been suggested that de Negker might fill in a landscape background to a drawing of a figure.
Johann, Johannes or Hans Wechtlin was a German Renaissance artist, active between at least 1502 and 1526, whose woodcuts are his only certainly surviving work. He was the most prolific producer of German chiaroscuro woodcuts, printed in two or more colours, during their period in fashion, though most of his output was of book illustrations.
Ugo da Carpi was an Italian printmaker active between 1502 and 1532 in the cities of Venice, Rome and Bologna. He is renowned for his stylistic contributions to the chiaroscuro woodcut, a printmaking technique using blocks of different colours. Ugo claimed to be the first to use this technique, seeking a copyright first from the Venetian senate, and later from Pope Leo X. Although he did not create the chiaroscuro woodcut technique, he was one of the first Italian practitioners. He contributed to its development through his powerful style, focus on tonality and interpretive skills. One of his most famous works is a print of Diogenes. In addition to his numerous prints, he produced a writing book, and is also known to have produced at least one painting, the altarpiece of Saint Veronica in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.
The visual arts are art forms such as painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, photography, video, filmmaking, design, crafts, and architecture. Many artistic disciplines such as performing arts, conceptual art, and textile arts also involve aspects of visual arts as well as arts of other types. Also included within the visual arts are the applied arts such as industrial design, graphic design, fashion design, interior design and decorative art.
The depiction of night in paintings is common in Western art. Paintings that feature a night scene as the theme may be religious or history paintings, genre scenes, portraits, landscapes, or other subject types. Some artworks involve religious or fantasy topics using the quality of dim night light to create mysterious atmospheres. The source of illumination in a night scene—whether it is the moon or an artificial light source—may be depicted directly, or it may be implied by the character and coloration of the light that reflects from the subjects depicted.
Low-key photography is a genre of photography consisting of shooting dark-colored scenes, and emphasizing natural or artificial light only on specific areas in the frame. This photographic style is usually used to create a mysterious atmosphere, that only suggests various shapes, often graphic, letting the viewer experience the photograph through subjective interpretation and often implies painting objects or the human body with black non-toxic dyes or pigments.
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