Chiaroscuro – Light/Dark Contrast

Chiaroscuro is one of the oldest techniques using light and shadow to create a dramatic effect in artwork. The works of Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Leonardo Di Vinci are among the most well known artists who use this technique in their work to draw a viewers eye to the area of interest.


Image Courtesy – Wikipedia


Below are some of Rembrandt’s masterpieces which portray this light/dark contrast.

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Caravaggio’s work which portrays light/dark contrast is presented below. It is believed that chiaroscuro really came to life in Caravaggio’s paintings in the late 16th century.  There is such a stark contrast in his work as our eyes are only seeing what the artist wants us to see. The work is vibrant and striking.

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Leonardo Di Vinci described his Chiaroscuro technique stating:

“I would remind you O Painter! To dress your figures in the lightest colors you can, since, if you put them in dark colors, they will be in too slight relief and inconspicuous from a distance. And this is because the shadows of all objects are dark. And if you make a dress dark there is little variety between the lights and shadows, while in light colours there will be greater variety.”

Great website of Rembrandt’s work can be found, great quality images. Click here.

Caravaggio’s work is just outstanding, see a webpage full of his works here.

“(1) the gradations in light and dark values of a colour on a figure or object, which produce the illusion of volume and relief as well as the illusion of light and shadow; (2) the distribution of light and dark over the surface of the whole picture, which serves to unify the composition and creates an expressive quality; (3) monochrome pictures, includ- ing GRISAILLE paintings (in grey, black and white, usually in imitation of sculpture), painting en camaieu (painting in a single colour in imitation of cameos on pottery, porcelain and enamels and graphics in a uniform colour with light and shadow indicated by hatching and stippling…” – Grove Encyclopedia of Materials & Techniques in Art


Bibliography (2017). Rembrandt Van Rijn – The complete works. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Feb. 2017]. (2017). Caravaggio – The complete works. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Feb. 2017].

The Grove encyclopedia of materials and techniques in art. (2009). Choice Reviews Online, 46(11), pp.46-5940-46-5940.


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