This is an Oil painting technique that uses dark and light contrast to create a 3D form.

It can be described as a painting that depends for its effect an extensive gradation of lightness and darkness.

Famous painted who are known for using this technique are

  • Leonardo Da Vinci

Used it to give vivid impression of 3D form in his figures.


(The Virgin of the Rocks about 1491/2-9 and 1506-8, Leonardo da Vinci)

  • Caravaggio

Used the contrasts for the sake of drama in their subject matter.


(Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist about 1609-10, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio)

  • Rembrandt

Chiarosuro originated during the Renaissance period but was based off Roman illuminated manuscripts, the idea being that they would draw/paint on a coloured background adding in the lights and darks.

It used to only refer to monochrome/Grisaille pictures but over time was broadened to include all strong contrasts in illumination.

It was also referred to as Light Modelling,

“Where three-dimensional volume is suggested by the value gradation of colour and the analytical division of light and shadow.”

You can achieve a Chiaroscuro effect through techniques like,

  • Crosshatching
  • Shading by parallel lines
  • Washes of ink
  • Stipple
  • Dotting

There was an Artist Nicholas Hilliard who did portraiture, even of famous figures like Queen Elizabeth 1st, who advised against using Chiaroscuro except in a minimalist sense. There paintings were very bright and didn’t include much of any shadows which they felt helped to better represent the person’s likeness, though personally I think it makes it very flat looking and I think the styles of Caravaggio bring more life and movement into the paintings bringing, making them more appealing and more experimentative with how their subject matter.


The use of extreme contrasts of light and dark in figurative composition to heighten their dramatic effect. This technique was used a lot by Caravaggio.


This is a painting style that favours compositional tension and instability rather than the balance and clarity of earlier Renaissance Paintings. To help achieve this the artists would use a very strong sense of Chiaroscuro.


(Madonna with the long neck, oil on wood by Parmigianino, c. 1535; SCALA/Art Resource, New York)

References (2017). Chiaroscuro. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Feb. 2017].

Encyclopædia Britannica. (2009). Mannerism. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Feb. 2017]. (2017). Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio | Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist | NG6389 | National Gallery, London. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Feb. 2017].

Encyclopædia Britannica. (2014). tenebrism. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Feb. 2017].

Encyclopædia Britannica. (2015). chiaroscuro. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Feb. 2017].


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