Research point: Chiaroscuro

We are asked to look at artists such as Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt and Wright of Derby in particular with regards the use of chiaroscuro in their works. (Italicised text denotes this was obtained from a source listed below in Bibliography)

Chiaroscuro: This is an Italian term which literally means ‘light-dark’. In paintings the description refers to clear tonal contrasts which are often used to suggest the volume and modelling of the subjects depicted.

Caravaggism (c.1600-50) was a painting technique used by Caravaggio, incorporating chiaroscuro and tenebrism. Tenebrism – also occasionally called dramatic illumination, is a style of painting using profoundly pronounced chiaroscuro, where there are violent contrasts of light and dark, and where darkness becomes a dominating feature of the image


I am quite familiar with the works of this artist. However, his full biography and complete works are found on the website;

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio Saint John the Baptist


Tintoretto’s family name was Robusti; he took the name Tintoretto from his father’s profession of dyer (tintore in Italian). Tintoretto’s art is characterised by daring inventiveness in both handling and composition. Most of his paintings are large-scale narratives on canvas, animated by dramatic lighting and gestures. The 19th-century copy of ‘The Miracle of Saint Mark’ gives an impression of this type of work.

Tintoretto was deeply influenced by Titian; he wanted to combine Titian’s use of colour with the energised forms of Michelangelo. Tintoretto is usually described as a Mannerist, although his striving for effect is less in the cause of stylishness and more for the sake of narrative drama. He appears to have lived and worked for most of his life in Venice, only once being recorded on a visit outside of the city, to Mantua in 1580.

After Titian’s death Tintoretto, with
Veronese, became one of the leading painters in the city,controlling a large workshop. He designed and worked on a number of commissions for the Doge’s Palace, and on an outstanding cycle of paintings for the Scuola di San Rocco, which are still in their original location.

Jacopo Tintoretto painted this expressive self-portrait as he reached 30 years old. His dark curly hair, moustache, and beard, along with his black jacket nearly blend into blue-black background while his face appears as if glowing in light against the darkness. The starkness of the composition, quite unlike his densely populated narrative paintings, was unprecedented, as the artist provides no details to indicate a place, context, or even his profession as an artist. Tintoretto’s gaze is truly captivating, with his head turned over his right shoulder he stares directly out providing an uncompromisingly direct confrontation with the viewer.

Tintoretto Self Portrait c. 1548

Wright of Derby

I discovered this artist through one of the books in the massive set of artist biographies entitled, ‘The Masters’, which was published during the mid-60’s. I bought my set (not complete) from a second-hand store. Some great examples of chiaroscuro in Wright’s works are:

Wright of Derby ‘A philospher giving a lecture on the Orrery’ c.1763-5
Wright of Derby Grotto in the Gulf of Salerno, Italy, Moonlight, c.1780-90

I find this artists’ work to be so precise. His paintings were produced during the early part of the 18th century, yet most of them look like photographs.


Apparently one of the earliest examples of chiaroscuro in Rembrandt’s work is this painting;

Rembrandt van Rijn Man in Oriental dress c. 1635


Sir Peter Paul Rubens is considered the most influential artist of Flemish Baroque tradition.

Peter Paul Rubens The Deposition, 1602
Peter Paul Rubens Descent from the Cross

Chiaroscuro in contemporary art

Jesse Lane

Staying true to Caravaggio’s original roots of realistic depictions, Jesse Lane is an American painter who combines the concepts of Hyperrealism and chiaroscuro. His paintings aim to channel the emotional impact and capture intimate moments wrapped into a single instant presented to the audience. Lane’s pieces are rather open-ended, as the artist himself explained on many occasions, and his goal is to make the viewers create the narrative on their own. When observed from a technical standpoint, it’s hard to find a more talented painter than Jesse Lane both in regards to Hyperrealism and chiaroscuro art.

Jesse Lane Echoes 2016
Image via

Olivier Valsecchi

French photograper whose artworks resemble both William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s nudes and Salvador Dali’s surreal paintings. Relying on the effects of the chiaroscuro style for dramatic impact, Valsecchi’s art is centered around the grim and complex themes of death, birth, rebirth and maternity. He introduced many fresh concepts to the chiaroscuro technique in photography. For example, his Time of War series depicts frozen bodies of naked dancers covered in ashes that enhance their shaded silhouettes. Olivier Valsecchi also experimented with Klecksography as he made images of complex artistic symmetries of naked bodies intertwined in each other.

Oliver Valescchi Time of War 3 and Time of War 13, Time of War Series, 2012
Images from

Stepan Mazurov

Stepan Mazurov Your Move
Imge from article –


All websites accessed throughout first week of March 2020. Some images from Bridgeman Education.


YouTube video on the topic of the Renaissance art techniques, including chiaroscuro


Documentary about Caravaggio –

Caravaggism –

The complete works of Caravaggio are found on this website:

His biography:


Other sources:

Rembrandt biography and information/plates about his work – Rothenstein Sir J. et al (c.1963/1965) The Masters series no. 17  Knowledge Publications

Wright of Derby biography and information/plates about his work – Rothenstein Sir J. et al (c.1963/1965) The Masters series no. 22  Knowledge Publications



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