So That's How They Did It: Chiaroscuro

By Marilyn Zion

Ever wonder how some paintings just seem to glow? This magical effect is several centuries old, and yet it still fascinates curious eyes. How did they do that? Simple: chiaroscuro.

[caption id="attachment_202" align="alignleft" width="195" caption="Caravaggio's "Crucifixion of Peter""][/caption]

Chiaroscuro is an Italian term referring to the contrast of light and dark.  Originating during the Renaissance, it was first employed by artists working with ink or watercolor. Leonardo da Vinci is often considered the pioneer of the technique - although Caravaggio and Rembrandt also used the technique extensively.

The artist would begin with the natural color of the paper, then work to develop the lighter highlights using white gouache (a type of paint with colored pigment suspended in water along with a white pigment such as chalk making it more opaque than watercolor. Then, using dark ink or watercolor, the artist would paint tonal contrasts. This defined contrast resulted in an effect of volume and three dimensionality.

Illuminated manuscripts from this time period and black and white woodcuts heavily influenced the chiaroscuro technique.  The term eventually began to describe the contrast between light and dark areas in a piece of artwork.  This is its primary meaning today.


[caption id="attachment_207" align="alignleft" width="342" caption=""Canyon De Chelly And Calla Lillies" by Chuck Sabatino"][/caption]

In our gallery, we see this technique employed most effectively by Chuck Sabatino.  His chiaroscuro emphasis on light and shadow is further enhanced by his use of very thin oil glazes and a warm palette of ambers, golds, and browns against a very dark background and lighter highlights on the subjects in his paintings.  His whole approach gives his artwork a luminosity almost glowing from within each piece.

[caption id="attachment_205" align="aligncenter" width="317" caption=""The Wedding Vase" by Chuck Sabatino"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_211" align="aligncenter" width="384" caption=""Six In One Out" by Chuck Sabatino"][/caption]


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