I had to explore the work of some artists whose art is a typical example of Chiaroscuro an Italian word meaning light and dark used in art to visually describe a third dimensional scene, or object. Used in its most extreme form it can produce a powerful picture, evoking an emotional response.
The use of Chiaroscuro has a possible origin dating back to ancient Greek and Romans, but it was an artist with a dubious character called Michelangelo Merisi de Caravaggio who fine-tuned the technique by darkening the shadow areas.
Merisi de Caravaggio
Saint John The Baptist Probably 1610
This is a beautifully painted picture of a young John the light revealing the most prominent items in the picture to be the boy and a red cloak. Light gives these shape and form, the sheep although picked out by light is beginning to have less form, as are the plants shown by a change of tone. What is fascinating is the use of light in the top left corner and the lower central bush, a mere touch of light on leaves is enough to give life and the suggestion of a three-dimensional form.
Paul The Hermit 1640
Jusepe Ribera depicted as a follow of Caravaggio was known as a Tenebrist painter and printmaker, though the painting above is more in the style of Chiaroscuro, it does show Chiaroscuro effect the dark background with delicate changes of tone show shape and Saint Paul lit by an opening in the cave a skulls form just picking out by half light. As Caravaggio the touch of light gives shape to the subject. I love this painting, the craggy face, bones of the knees and the sagging muscles all shown with great skill.
Peter Paul Reubens
Venus Frigida 1614
This oil painting by Reuben’s is another good example of Chiaroscuro although there is more detail in the painting than seen in others, it’s clear the light falling on Venus is depicting her three-dimensional shape emphasizing the curves of her body and Golden Hair. The painting was said to have been enlarged at a later stage, I didn’t know this when first picking the picture to study but felt it was unbalanced at first view.
I chose John Constable because I can see what he means when he says through application of light and sky the painter conveyed emotion capturing what he called the chiaroscuro of nature.” He made a series of engravings from his prints engraved by printmaker David Lucas the second series had the subtitle Principally Intended to Mark the Phenomena of the Chiar’Oscuro of Nature.
This print and its dramatic light and dark is a good example of how nature does indeed create its own chiaroscuro effect.
Adam Butler, C. V. (1994). The Art Book. New York: Phaidon Press Ltd.
America, F. A. (2017, April 23). Saint Paul The Hermit. Retrieved from Fine Art America: https://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-saint-paul-the-hermit-jusepe-de-ribera.html
Caravaggio. (2017, May 23). Retrieved from Caravaggio the Complete Works: http://www.caravaggio-foundation.org/St-John-the-Baptist.html
Chiaroscuro. (2017, May 23). Retrieved from Encyclopaedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/art/chiaroscuro
John Constable. (2017, May 23). Retrieved from National Gallery of Art USA: https://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/highlights/highlight1147.html
John Constable, David Lucas, Old Sarum (second plate). (2017, May 23). Retrieved from Tate: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/constable-lucas-old-sarum-second-plate-t04035
John the Baptist (Caravaggio). (2017, April 26). Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_the_Baptist_(Caravaggio)
Venus Frigida. (2017, 5 23). Retrieved from Baroque: http://barokinvlaanderen.vlaamsekunstcollectie.be/en/node/7963
Venus Frigida: Rubens’s portrait of love in a cold climate. (2017, May 2017). Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/picture/2011/dec/16/venus-frigida-rubens-jonathan-jones