Art Term of the Day: Chiaroscuro

Chiaroscuro is an Italian term, introduced during the Renaissance describing a technique that creates the illusion of depth around subjects.


In drawing, painting, and the graphic arts, the rendering of forms through a balanced contrast between pronounced light and dark areas. *

The technique is related to tenebrism, which descends from the Italian tenebroso, or dark and gloomy.

The techniques are found in the world of Michaelangelo, Caravaggio, van Honthorst, de La Tour, Bigot, de Ribera, and Zurbaran.

Kansas City’s own Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art houses a chiaroscuro masterwork: Caravaggio’s Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness (1604-1605).

(*) Mayer, Ralph. A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, NY, HarperPerennial, 1981.