What Is Chiaroscuro?


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Chiaroscuro means 'lightdark' in Italian. It refers to a method of painting which came to prominence in Mannerist and Baroque Art. The method employs dramatic lighting on figures, often using a single source of light which is hidden from view. Gradations are key in this technique of painting. For instance, a torso is modelled so that it gradually shifts from a very dark tone to a brilliant light tone. There is no line of delineation between the darkness and light, only gradual shading. The technique can be seen as a metaphor for the two realms of the human soul, darkness and light. Artists during the Mannerist and Baroque periods strove for maximum emotional impact, and chiaroscuro certainly delivered the desired effect. The artist Ugo da Carpi (1455-1523), Giovanni Baglione (1566~1643) and Caravaggio (1573-1610) are credited with developing chiaroscuro. It is closely related to tenebrism, but differs in that it is slightly more subtle and the source of light is usually hidden.

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