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Some evidence exists that ancient Greek and Roman artists used chiaroscuro effects, but in European painting the technique was first brought to its full potential by Leonardo da Vinci in the late 15th century in such paintings as his Adoration of the Magi Thereafter, chiaroscuro became a primary technique for many painters, and by the late 17th century the term was routinely used to describe any painting, drawing , or print that depended for its effect on an extensive gradation of light and darkness. In its most dramatic form—as in the works of those Italian artists of the 17th century who came under the influence of Caravaggio —it was known as tenebrismo , or tenebrism. Caravaggio and his followers used a harsh, dramatic light to isolate their figures and heighten their emotional tension. Another outstanding master of chiaroscuro was Rembrandt , who used it with remarkable psychological effect in his paintings, drawings, and etchings. The delicacy and lightness of 18th-century Rococo painting represents a rejection of this dramatic use of chiaroscuro, but the technique again became popular with artists of the Romantic period, who relied upon it to create the emotive effects they considered essential to their art. In the graphic arts , the term chiaroscuro refers to a particular technique for making a woodcut print in which effects of light and shade are produced by printing each tone from a different wood block.
Bonus Download: New to painting? Start with my free Beginner's Guide to Painting. Chiaroscuro refers to the use of light and dark to create the illusion of three-dimensional volume on a flat surface. The term translates to "light-dark"; chiaro meaning bright or clear and scuro meaning dark or obscure. The term is also used in a more narrow sense to describe artworks which display an extreme contrast between light and dark, like the painting below. Chiaroscuro can be traced back to the work of Apollodorus Skiagraphos, a Greek painter who used hatched shadows to suggest volume.
Note the use of chiaroscuro to boost the 3-D look of Samson's body. For an explanation of the aesthetic issues surrounding the creative visual arts, see: Art Definition, Meaning. What is the Definition and Meaning of Chiaroscuro? Although lacking a precise definition, the fine art term " chiaroscuro " from the Italian for "light-dark"; or the French "clair-obscur" describes the prominent contrast of light and shade in a painting, drawing or print, and the skill demonstrated by the artist in the management of shadows to create the illusion of three-dimensional forms. The point is, solidity of form is only detectable in the presence of light. For instance, it is only as dawn approaches that objects or figures - hitherto detectable only as slightly darker blobs than their surroundings - acquire volume and a three-dimensional appearance.