RESEARCH TASK -lighting – Chiaroscuro

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Chiaroscuro is the treatment of light and shade in drawing and painting, an effect of contrasted light and shadow. Artists who are famed for the use of chiaroscuro include Leonardo Da Vinci and Caravaggio. Leonardo employed it to give a vivid impression of the three dimensionality of his figures, whilst Caravaggio used the contrast for the sake of drama. Both artists knew the emotional impact of these effects. I wanted to explore Chiaroscuro and the effect of heavy shadow and highlighting as in relation to my project it links with the idea when using natural light it can be used to only highlight certain angles of an object. I wanted to explore more about the lighting and the effect extreme shadows and highlights have.

Chiaroscuro became a primary technique for many painters and by the late 17th century the term was used to describe any painting, drawing or print that depended for its effect on extensive graduation of light and darkness.

The work by Caravaggio ( see images above) used a harsh dramatic light to isolate their figures and heighten their emotional tension. Rembrandt (another chiaroscuro artist) used it resulting in remarkable psychological effect.

I feel the use of this lighting technique engages the viewers and would work really well with my first idea. Where I plan on using natural light from the east window hopefully when coming through it should highlight one area whilst creating a shadow on the other like these paintings creating a dramatic atmosphere and heightening the atmosphere of the image.

Some artists developed an exaggerated form of chiaroscuro known as tenebrism, meaning murky or gloomy; here the darkness becomes a dominating feature of the image. The Flagellation of Christ by Caravaggio is an example of this (see images above) the images were commissioned for a chapel in the church. Many of Caravaggio’s paintings were for churches, which brings a relationship with not only the aesthetics to my project but also the religious aspects.

Although I plan to use natural light, in photography the chiaroscuro is portrayed in ‘Rembrandt lighting’ where the lighting can be emphasised with a reflector by outing it at a 45-degree angle to the object/subject. Its placed close enough to illuminate the darker side with half the amount of light from the main. This method is popular in studio portraits where minimal lighting is used, lighting up one side of the face and having a triangle of light on the shadowed area.

Another aesthetical element from the renaissance painting era that influences me is vanitas. They are still life paintings; the style was meant to remind viewers of the transience of life, futility of pleasure and certainty of death. I wanted to look at vanitas purely for the visuals. In majority the objects, often including a skull, are placed on a surface with a light source highlighting certain angles of the objects again like chiaroscuro making the images more dynamic ( see above for image) .Again this is another prime example of using light to cast a harsh shadow and create a dynamic image which I can take forward unto my own work.


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