light and shadow - a radiant chiaroscuro study

This gallery includes paintings and pieces of artwork that represent the treatment of light and shadow, more specifically exploring elements of the baroque technique known as Chiaroscuro, and its applications to early portraiture and exploration of the human face.

This self portrait, created around 1794 is a great example of a rembrandt style chiaroscuro approach to painting the human face. This specific frame depicts the artist himself at the age of 33. The painter, John Opie, was a english painter who's artistic profession was solely based around portraiture. In the image we can observe the masterful technique of portraying an individual lit by one directional source. The quality of the light is depicted in a soft manner, yet there's a surprising quick fall off into shadows giving the image a strong level of contrast, a true giveaway of the chiaroscuro movement.
Portrait of a Man in a Broad-Brimmed Hat is a 17th century painting created by Rembrandt van Rijn himself. The painting depicts a young man with a large hat in a posing posture, originally created as a pair to go along a Portrait of a Lady which depicted the mans wife. In this specific piece of artwork he has created a very strong chiaroscuro by having a harsh source come in from left of frame, accentuating the individuals' facial features and bringing out specific and incredibly accurate details within the skin, facial hair and bringing out the reality and texture of the lace collar. Unlike many other examples including chiaroscuro, the background has been lit up by the same source, giving us a noticeable talent to background separation and overall aiding three dimensionality and the illusion of extended space.
This painting by the dutch painter Gerrit Dou, named Astronomer by Candlelight depicts an astronomer measure the distance between two points on a celestial globe, working late through the night, a time which encourages the use of strong contrast and differences in tonal ranges between the lights and the darks. Dou cleverly used practical lighting from the candle on the table as the sole source of illumination. We also observe a strong fall off into immediate shadow, a very realistic lighting approach as such a small source would create harsher shadowing and more intense fall off. Larger sources consequently create softer shadows. In addition, we must also appreciate the meticulous details within Dou's artwork, where we observe every single element within the book, the globe and more precisely the hourglass.
This painting by italian artist Angelina Inganni depicts an apparent "peasant" lighting a candle using a glowing ember. It is this ember that glows with a fair amount of luminance, providing the image with an overall warm tone of radiance. This is a fantastic example to observe shadowing and how the angle of the source affects our perception of shadows and it's graceful harmony with light. Most examples as such that have strong uses of chiaroscuro also contain superb amount of detail within the close-up depths of the image as we observe key features and characteristics within the shadows, such as the peacock feather hanging from the peasants hat. Furthermore by having the source of light in the middle ground layer, a greater sense of depth and three dimensionality is materialized as the foreground and front side of the mans hands and tongs are cast in near complete shadow, quite a contrast to his well-lit facial expression.
Old Woman with a Basket of Coal is a painting by Belgian painter Peter Paul Rubens, depicting an elderly lady with a young man and child warming up next to a literally glowing basket of fiery coals. What we can observe with many chiaroscuro paintings of the 17th century and the early baroque period is the use of practical lighting, where the source is clearly visible within frame. In this image the coal is so brilliant, it lightens up the characters faces with a great level of vivacity and warmth, hence creating the ironically dark atmosphere of the image. If fiery coals emit such grandose amount of luminance, the cavern they're residing in must be incredibly somber and simply blackened with sheer darkness. Unlike many traditional chiaroscuro portraits utilizing Rembrandt techniques, Rubens took advantage of highlights and mid-tones to effectively create a sense of distance between the subjects and the source, where we can appreciate the specularity of the burning coals on the nearby close to blown-out skintones.
Portrait of Pelagia Witoslawska is another prime example of chiaroscuro within portraiture. This specific piece of artwork by Polish vivid and expressionist painter Krzyzanowski depicts a dying elderly lady sitting down in the somber darkness, a fantastic mirror of the emotions that can be felt after witnessing such a dismal and disheartening image. Chiaroscuro is cleverly implemented within this image to create a dim and shadowy atmosphere and isolate the poor lady in frame. By observing an abundance of negative space and the dominating power of shadows, a greater sense of isolation and loneliness is created. Furthermore by using harsh focused lighting, an emphasis is put on the withering age of the lady by essentially side/under lighting her facial features, bringing out the wrinkles and imperfections, whilst the same applies to her shriveled decaying hands. Overall, chiaroscuro helps create a shadowy and incredibly contrasted image portraying an overall sense of solemn melancholic sadness.
Woman Reading by a Paper-Bell Shade is an oil on canvas painting by Henry Robert Morland, the painting depicts a upper middle-class young lady reading a book next to a desk lamp. Morland's artistic style was strongly based around capturing snippets of daily life and portraying daily domestic occurrences on canvas. This example is rather interesting and slightly different to the plethora of other Chiaroscuro examples listed within this specific gallery. Note the painting has an overall more high key tone and noticeably softer contrast levels yet what makes this image incredibly interesting is the incredibly meticulous study of light Morland has carried out. Again, the use of a practical acts as the sole source of light within the image, however due to the Paper-Bell shade, a clear separation of two distinctly different light qualities has been created. The strong diffusing material creates a warmer and very soft light on the young lady's upper body, creating a very satisfying and beautiful soft look with a lower intensity and softer fall off, whereas the un-diffused light is noticeably higher in luminance and has stronger shadows. It is certainly interesting to see how Chiaroscuro is such a broad term and has several different, yet mind-boggling applications.
St. Peter in Prison by Rembrandt van Rijn is yet another great example of Baroque style Chiaroscuro, embraced and adopted by Rembrandt himself. In this painting, we see St. Peter chained up in a prison cell of jerusalem shortly after his arrest. We notice the subject is lit by one source which resides out of frame to the top left. St. Peter is illuminated by an incredibly warm spot light, spilling into the cell from above, possibly a hole in the brick roof, but it certainly contains a more metaphorical significance as the intensity and golden brilliance signifies the overseeing light and power of god looking down at him. We can also observe an incredibly elevated contrast ratio with a high percentage of the frame falling into complete darkness, a style and creative choice highly used and adopted by the dutch baroque artist.
This painting from the early 17th century is one of many self-portraits by Rembrandt van Rijn himself, depicting himself at a younger age. This is one of the more interesting self-portraits in my mind due to it's unconventional and untraditional use of chiaroscuro lighting to partially light the side of his face. We can observe how the majority of Rembrandt's face is obscure, overwhelmed by imperious shadows. Rembrandt is known to have incredibly accurate shadow painting and a very realistic image is created due to the realism of the shadows and how they act regarding the the angle of the source of light. Furthermore, unlike many other portraits, the background has a similar or even higher luminance level than the more important facial features, creating an intriguing and mysterious persona behind his facial anatomy.
Despite having mentioned Rembrandt on multiple occasions, we mustn't disregard other important artists of the same time period who also adopted a similar artistic approach and style, such as the master dutch painter Johannes Vermeer who focused on capturing domestic every day scenes and blissfully capturing the spontaneity of the middle class. The Officer and Laughing Girl by Johannes Vermeer depicts an officer of higher power and class talk to a laughing girl. Even though it might be hard to believe, this is another example, despite being less extreme, of Chiaroscuro lighting within visual artwork where the large blown out window provides light to the scene. Vermeer's mostly known for his use of naturalistic available lighting such as large windows seen in similar works of his such as The Milk Maid. We can observe the gentle roll off of light as it spills into the room illuminating the far side of the frame, despite it's strength and overall volume, the officer remains in shadow as he resides in front of the oceans of natural light crashing into the pastel room. The use of shadow and light works gracefully in this specific painting as it not only creates a pleasing compositional balance but also separates both socio-economic classes in a clear yet original manner.
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This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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