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A. Rise of oil painting as a decorative art form Development of techniques such as chiaroscuro and tenebrism
In previous part we have discussed the Origins of oil painting. Now, we will discuss Chiaroscuro and Tenebrism. They are two very similar techniques used in relation to the treatment of light and dark within a composition. They are often confused or assumed to be the same thing due to how minimal the difference between them is.
Chiaroscuro, (from Italian chiaro, “light,” and scuro, “dark”), the technique employed in the visual arts to represent light and shadow as they define three-dimensional objects.
Some evidence exists that ancient Greek and Roman artists used chiaroscuro effects, but in European painting, the technique was first brought to its full potential by Leonardo da Vinci in the late 15th century in such paintings as his Adoration of the Magi (1481).
Thereafter, chiaroscuro became a primary technique for many painters, and by the late 17th century the term was routinely used to describe any painting, drawing, or print that depended on its effect on an extensive gradation of light and darkness.
In its most dramatic form—as in the works of those Italian artists of the 17th century who came under the influence of Caravaggio—it was known as tenebrismo, or tenebrism. Caravaggio and his followers used a harsh, dramatic light to isolate their figures and heighten their emotional tension. Another outstanding master of chiaroscuro was Rembrandt, who used it with remarkable psychological effect in his paintings, drawings, and etchings. Peter Paul Rubens, Diego Velázquez, and many other, lesser painters of the Baroque period also used chiaroscuro to great effect. The delicacy and lightness of 18th-century Rococo painting represent a rejection of this dramatic use of chiaroscuro, but the technique again became popular with artists of the Romantic period, who relied upon it to create the emotive effects they considered essential to their art.
In graphic arts, the term chiaroscuro refers to a particular technique for making a woodcut print in which effects of light and shade are produced by printing each tone from a different wood block. The technique was first used in woodcuts in Italy in the 16th century, probably by the printmaker Ugo da Carpi. To make a chiaroscuro woodcut, the key block was inked with the darkest tone and printed first. Subsequent blocks were inked with progressively lighter tones and carefully measured to print in register with the key block. Chiaroscuro woodcuts are printed in only one color, brown, gray, green, and sepia being preferred. The process attempted to imitate wash and watercolor drawings and also became popular as an inexpensive method of reproducing paintings.
Tenebrism, in the history of Western painting, uses extreme contrasts of light and dark in figurative compositions to heighten their dramatic effect. (The term is derived from the Latin tenebrae, “darkness.”) In Tenebrist paintings, the figures are often portrayed against a background of intense darkness, but the figures themselves are illuminated by a bright, searching light that sets off their three-dimensional forms by a harsh but exquisitely controlled chiaroscuro. The technique was introduced by the Italian painter Caravaggio (1571–1610) and was taken up in the early 17th century by painters influenced by him, including the French painter Georges de La Tour, the Dutch painters Gerrit van Honthorst and Hendrik Terbrugghen, and the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán.
B. Key figures and their impact on the art world
Chiaroscuro and Tenebrism were developed in the Renaissance, but they remained popular for a long time. In fact, many of the most famous chiaroscuro artists were actually working in the Baroque period, which followed the Renaissance. These artists include:
Gerrit van Honthorst (1592-1656)was a Dutch Golden Age painter who became known for his depiction of artificially lit scenes, eventually receiving the nickname Gherardo delle Notti (“Gerard of the Nights”). Early in his career, he visited Rome, where he had great success painting in a style influenced by Caravaggio. Following his return to the Netherlands he became a leading portrait painter.
Georges de la Tour (1593-1652), a French painter-was a French Baroque painter, who spent most of his working life in the Duchy of Lorraine . He is best known for his candlelit scenes, which often featured religious or mythological subjects. He was an innovative painter, and his use of chiaroscuro and tenebrism made his work stand out from the works of other contemporary painters. He was heavily influenced by Caravaggio, and his works often featured light sources that illuminated the figures within them. His works have been highly acclaimed and are still held in high regard today.
Artemisia Lomi or Artemisia Gentileschi was an Italian Baroque painter. Gentileschi is considered among the most accomplished seventeenth-century artists and is the first female artist to be recognized as a major figure in the history of Western art. She was the daughter of Orazio Gentileschi, a renowned Baroque painter, and was trained by her father and by her tutor Agostino Tassi. She is best known for her emotionally charged and often violent paintings, which often depict strong female figures such as Judith Slaying Holofernes, and self-portraits that explore female identity and experience. Gentileschi’s work was celebrated in her lifetime, and she is now considered an important figure in the history of art.
Hendrick Jansz ter Brugghen (or Terbrugghen) was a painter at the start of the Dutch Golden Age painting and a leading member of the Dutch followers of Caravaggio–the so-called Utrecht Caravaggisti. Along with Gerrit van Hondhorst and Dirck van Baburen, Ter Brugghen was one of the most important Dutch painters to have been influenced by Caravaggio.
Francisco de Zurbarán was a Spanish painter. He is known primarily for his religious paintings depicting monks, nuns, and martyrs, and for his still-lifes. Zurbarán gained the nickname “Spanish Caravaggio”, owing to the forceful use of chiaroscuro in which he excelled.
Rembrandt, in full Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn Dutch Baroque painter and printmaker, is one of the greatest storytellers in the history of art, possessing an exceptional ability to render people in their various moods and dramatic guises. Rembrandt is also known as a painter of light and shade and as an artist who favored an uncompromising realism that would lead some critics to claim that he preferred ugliness to beauty.
Jan Vermeer, one of the greatest Dutch masters, is responsible for some of the most iconic imagery in the history of art, such as The Girl with a Pearl Earring (ca.1665), The Milkmaid (ca. 1660) and The Art of Painting (1665-1668). His artworks are a rarity, with only around 36 known paintings attributed to him. Much of Vermeer’s life remains a mystery, which makes him and his paintings all the more captivating and intriguing.
II. 19th century
A. Resurgence in popularity of oil painting Impact of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movements
Both Impressionism and Post-Impressionism refer to influential artistic movements arising in late 19th-century France. Impressionists rejected the system of state-controlled academies and salons in favor of independent exhibitions, the first of which was held in 1874. They painted contemporary landscapes and scenes of modern life, especially of bourgeois leisure and recreation, instead of drawing on past art or historical and mythological narrative for their inspiration. Interested in capturing transitory moments, the Impressionists paid attention to the fleeting effect of light, atmosphere, and movement. They continued the break that the Realists began from the illusionist tradition by emphasizing the paint on the surface of the canvas, flattening the sense of perspective through a lack of tonal modeling, and using daring cropped perspectives which were influenced by Japanese prints. Confronting nature and modern city life directly, the Impressionists differed from their antecedents because they painted en plein air (in the open air) and used a palette of pure colors. The term Impressionism is used to describe a group of painters living in Paris who worked between c. 1860 and 1900. These artists, such as Frédéric Bazille, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Mary Cassatt, sparked an international group of followers and revolutionized Western conceptions of painting.
Post-Impressionism is a term used to describe the reaction in the 1880s against Impressionism. It was led by Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Georges Seurat. The Post-Impressionists rejected Impressionism’s concern with the spontaneous and naturalistic rendering of light and color. Instead, they favored an emphasis on more symbolic content, formal order and structure. Similar to the Impressionists, however, they stressed the artificiality of the picture. The Post-Impressionists also believed that color could be independent from form and composition as an emotional and aesthetic bearer of meaning. Both Impressionism and Post-Impressionism include some of the most famous works of modern art such as Monet’s Waterlilies, a Series of Waterscapes, and van Gogh’s Starry Night. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism continue to be some of the most well-known and beloved artistic movements.
Read More: The invention and evolution of lithography
B. Development of new techniques and styles
The 19th Century was a period when Europe and the world experienced rapid and profound changes in all areas.
Politically and geographically Europe was constantly in a state of flux with revolutions in France, the breakdown of the Spanish, Holy Roman, and French Napoleonic empires, and the growth of the British and German empires.
The period was also one of huge social change and urbanization, which was instigated by the birth of science as a profession and two huge Industrial Revolutions, which defined the period as the age of the machine, impacting every level of society and improving just about every part of everyday life.
Art, and especially painting, in the 19th Century, was no different. The changes over the course of 100 years were dramatic, transitioning from historic ‘Old Masters’ style works to the dawn of Modernity.
Whereas previously artists were commissioned to produce works on behalf of a client or institution, it was during the 19th Century that artists really started to produce works of their own accord, exploring new and personal areas of interest.
New breakthroughs in transportation, especially rail travel, fuelled communication across borders, and new ideas and artistic influences were able to spread quickly throughout Europe.
Thus, over the course of the 19th Century, many innovative and original art movements and styles were born. Some of these movements were short-lived and only flourished within small districts, whilst others were widespread and had a profound effect on the evolution of art. This blog explores just a few of the most important styles and movements of the period, showcasing how artistic freedoms transitioned from 1800 to 1900.
The next PART 4 we will discuss 20th century & Current status and popularity of oil painting in the art world.
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