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Chiaroscuro - Arcy Art Original Oil Paintings Art Dictionary

Chiaroscuro applies to the brightnes and darkness in paintings when tone rather than colour is the dominant characteristic. Chiaroscuro is used in paintings and drawings to create a dramatic effect.

The term chiaroscuro originated as a name for a type of Renaissance drawing on coloured paper, where the artist worked from this base tone towards light, with white gouache, and dark, with ink, bodycolour or watercolour. These in turn drew on traditions in illuminated manuscripts, going back to late Roman Imperial manuscripts on purple-dyed vellum. Chiaroscuro woodcuts began as imitations of this technique.

When discussing Italian art, the term chiaroscuro is sometimes used to mean painted images in monochrome or two colours, more generally known in English by the French equivalent, grisaille. The term chiaroscuro early broadened in meaning to cover all strong contrasts in illumination between light and dark areas in art, which is now the primary meaning.


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