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Chiaroscuro

Chiaroscuro is derived from two Italian words 'chiaro' meaning light and 'scuro' meaning dark. This technique employs light and shadow to define three-dimensional objects. Though chiaroscuro effects is known to have been used by Greek and Roman painters, in Europe the technique was used and popularized by Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael during the Italian Renaissance. Two famous paintings of Leonardo da Vinci that employ chiaroscuro include The Adoration of Magi and Virgin on the Rocks.

By the late 17th century chiaroscuro was used by many painters. Caravaggio was an Italian artist who used the technique in an exaggerated manner to create a more dramatic effect. This dramatic manner of using chiaroscuro was known as tenebrism. Rembrandt employed chiaroscuro to give a strong psychological depth in his works. His works such as The Nightwatch and Self Portrait as St Paul are examples of the subtle yet clever use of the technique.

Though the cave paintings of Ajanta dating back to the 2nd century B.C. seem to have used the technique of chiaroscuro , Indian artists were introduced to it with the arrival of the British. Some prominent Indian painters who used Chiaroscuro in their paintings were Abanindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore and Amrita Shergill.


Leonardo Da Vinci, St. John the Baptist, 1513-16, oil painting on walnut wood, 69 x 57 cm.