Illuminating the Way: Chiaroscuro in the 17th Century

Chiaroscuro began to emerge during the Early Renaissance era but has been more attributed to artists who created works during the 17th Century, most notably Caravaggio and Rembrandt. Caravaggio used such an influential style of chiaroscuro, the more dramatic tenebrism, that he attracted many fellow artists who followed his works and replicated his technique. Many of the works of art in this gallery were painted by Caravaggio and those who followed his work, called Caravaggists. Works of art that employ the use of chiaroscuro create images where there is stark contrast in light, creating dynamic scenes where bright subjects stand out from dark surroundings, often highlighting the human figure or using a specific light source (such as a candle) as the point of illumination. I chose to focus on the use of chiaroscuro because I have a particular fondness for the contrast between light and dark within visual art which allows the viewer to really focus on what is being displayed in the scene. Within this gallery you will see many pieces that depict biblical stories, many of which are quite dramatic in nature, which the use of chiaroscuro heightens.

This particular painting by Trophime Bigot, who studied the works of Caravaggio, is very dramatic and depicts a brutal scene from the Bible. In the painting, the widow Judith is scene cutting off the head of the General Holofernes. Typical of paintings done with a chiaroscuro or tenebrism style, a single light source is identified, the candle. By having a dark background and the candle focusing on Judith as she beheads the General, the viewer can see the anguish on the General's face. Also, the positioning and contorting of his body heightens the brutality. I thought this painting was a perfect example of how those who painting using chiaroscuro used a single light source as emphasis and this scene is perfectly theatrical, a staple for this style of art. 
It would be foolish to have an entire exhibit dedicated to the range of chiaroscuro without speaking on a work of Caravaggio, who not only excelled in it but continued on to the even more dramatic contrast of light and dark through tenebrism. In this painting there is yet another Bibilical scene being displayed, when Jesus Christ was having the crown of thorns placed upon his head. It is easy to see a light source coming from the upper left corner, with the darkest presence being the man in the bottom left. While in a lighter color, the two men who are placing the crown of thorns onto Christ's had have a warmer skin tone, while Christ is made to look paler, with a softer, defeated body shape. This is a powerful scene, both visually and for those who are followers of Christ, and Caravaggio really sets the tone of the scene well, with the light focusing on the action of the painting, but using his skill to also show the pain and despair of the situation. 
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