The first thing we have to expose about this term at hand is that it is a word that is juxtaposed. Yes, because it has been formed from the sum of two others: light and dark. That makes it come to define what would be a remarkable contrast of lights and shadows.
According to DigoPaul, the concept of chiaroscuro is used in the field of painting to name the contrast that occurs between shadows and light in a work. It is a technique that uses these contrasts to highlight certain elements of the painting and to develop visual effects of modeling and relief.
The chiaroscuro emerged in the 16th century, within the framework of the artistic period known as Cinquecento. Italian and Flemish painters began to try this technique which had its heyday during the Baroque.
Caravaggio (1571-1610) was one of the great artists who appealed to chiaroscuro. “The flagellation of Christ” and “Death of the virgin” are among his works that show the use of this technique. Rembrandt (1606-1669) also excelled with his handling of light and shadow in paintings such as “The young Rembrandt”, “The philosopher in meditation” and others.
The radicalization of chiaroscuro was called tenebrism. In this style, promoted by artists such as José de Ribera, El Greco and Caravaggio himself, the contrast between light and shadow is very marked.
In the same way, we cannot overlook another series of paintings that, in one way or another, use this chiaroscuro technique. We are referring to some as the following:
– “Christ in the house of Marta and María” by Diego Velázquez. It dates from the year 1618 and is part of the Sevillian phase of the aforementioned painter. It also becomes a perfect mix between religious and genre painting. It is currently in the National Gallery in London.
– “Descent” of Christ by Rubens. It is a work from 1612 and is the second part of a triptych created by the aforementioned artist. Today it is preserved in the Cathedral of Antwerp (Belgium) and was carried out by him as a commission from a confraternity of teachers.
– “Night watch” by Rembrandt. This painting, one of the most important of his entire career. It was made between 1640 and 1642 and can be admired in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It is an oil on canvas 359 centimeters x 438 centimeters.
– “The girl with the pearl” by Johannes Vermeer. Between 1665 and 1667 the creation of this painting was carried out, the great masterpiece of its author, which today can be seen in the Mauritshuis in The Hague.
Beyond painting, chiaroscuro also reached woodcut engraving. Known in this case specifically as chiaroscuro, its development required the use of various plates to color the images. It should be noted that, over the years, chiaroscuro broke into the cinema.
In colloquial language, the idea of chiaroscuro is often used with reference to contradictions or conflicting questions. For example: “The proposal is interesting, but it has light shades”, “He is a man with light shades: sometimes he is very nice, but in other situations he becomes sparse and distant”.