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Chiaroscuro

The Man with the Golden Helmet

The Man with the Golden Helmet, by Rembrandt von Rijn (15 July 1606 – 15 July 1606), housed in the Berlin National Museum  

In my post on Barbizon school artist, Charles Jacque, I mentioned not only the Golden section in a rather cavalier fashion, but I also mentioned chiaroscuro somewhat off-handedly. 

Rembrandt Harmenszoon von Rijn’s “Man with the Golden Helmet,” 1560-1665, housed in the Berlin National Museum, is a good example of the use of chiaroscuro or dark and light.  It is also a good example of the use of the Golden section.

According to Wikipedia “[c]hiaroscuro originated during the Renaissance as drawing on coloured paper, where the artist worked from the paper’s base tone towards light using white gouache, and towards dark using ink, bodycolour (a color that lasts) or watercolour.

By and large, we no longer use coloured paper.  We use pale, usually white, paper.  However, the above description is particularly interesting in that it gives the impression that the light area has been dug out of darkness.  In the case of Charles Jacque‘s Marie, the dark areas are carved out of a white background. It is a process akin to making a cameo, or the reverse.

Let us return to Wikipedia to read that “[t]hese in turn drew on traditions in illuminated manuscripts, going back to late Roman Imperial manuscripts on purple-dyed vellum (from vélin or calfskin).”

However, more simply defined, chiaroscuro refers to the contrast between light areas and dark areas, as in Charles Jacque’s “Marie.”  Marie seems to emerge, as though dug out from the white background.  In most drawings and coloured paintings, the pale area seems nearer than the dark area. However, if only one part of the painting is lit (see El Greco), that is the part we see.  
 
                                                    
Sacred and Profane Love, 1602–1603 
Giovanni Baglione (1566 – 30 December 1643)    

El Greco (1541 – 7 April 1614)
Allegory, Boy Lighting Candle in Company of Ape and Fool
 
19 Mendelssohn Lieder ohne Worte, Op.53 – No. 1. Andante con moto in A flat 
(please click on the title to hear the music)
 
April 19, 2012