Left: Carvaggio's The Deposition of Christ, oil on canvas currently displayed in  the Vatican Museum.

Right: Sacred Love Versus Profane Love by  Giovanni Baglione,  oil on canvas currently in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Chiaroscuro is roughly translated from the original Italian as clear-dark and it is a term used in art to describe the difference between light and dark shading, often employed to produce three dimensional effects such as when painting a human body and in mainland Europe the technique was brought to show it's true potential by Leonardo da Vinci in many paintings; a particular example is his 'Adoration of the Magi'. An extension of chiaroscuro is tenebrism, in which harsh, increased contrast is used to accentuate particular figures or to increase dramatic emotion. By the end of the 17th century the term chiaroscuro was in general use to describe any painting that relied on different intensities of light or darkness to achieve the desired effect; Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Rubens, Velasquez and many others were great exponents of the method and it wasn't until the beginnings of the light and delicate Rococo style that it became less popular, until the Romantic period with it's emphasis on emotive effects led to a revival. The term has survived to the present day where it refers to techniques used in cinema and photography.

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During the 16th Century a chiaroscuro effect was used with woodcuts, with the key block being inked with the darkest colour first and thereafter blocks used progressively lighter ones. Single colours only were used, the favourite ones being grey, sepia, green or brown and it became popular as an inexpensive method for reproducing watercolour drawings and paintings.

Did you ever fancy being an artist's model?

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