Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tenebrism and chiaroscuro

The appetizing family entertainment depicted above is Judith Beheading Holofernes, an episode from the Bible, which is a book adults use to teach children morality. (Many of these same adults protest Harry Potter as a bad influence, although I fail to recall a title like Harry Potter and the Righteous Beheading.) It was painted by the great Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, the subject of a question in last week's 12 Steps Down quiz which elicited a bit of controversy.

I asked what school of painting was Caravaggio most closely associated with, and most teams went with chiaroscuro, which I marked wrong. I could just point out that chiaroscuro is more a technique than a school, rest on semantics like a petulant bastard and call it a day, but instead I'll dig deeper as promised last week and come up with a more satisfying reason why that was the right call, all the while carefully ignoring any evidence to the contrary.

(That PayPal link on the lower right-hand side of the page really works by the by, and if you're so moved by my dedication to Gnosis in all its forms on this site and beyond, feel free to toss me a few bucks.)

"Chiaroscuro is a method for applying value to a two-dimensional piece of artwork to create the illusion of a three-dimensional solid form. This way of working was devised during the Italian Renaissance and was used by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael. In this system, if light is coming in from one predetermined direction, then light and shadow will conform to a set of rules." So says the art department at the University of Evansville, and who am I to contradict them?

All well and good. Now, as for Tenebrism: "A heightened form of chiaroscuro, it creates the look of figures emerging from the dark." According to Wikipedia, which is about as far deep as I'm willing to dig on this one: "The difference between tenebrism and chiaroscuro is perhaps best expressed by [dead German art critic] Rudolf Wittkower,"With Caravaggio light isolates; it creates neither space nor atmosphere. Darkness in his pictures is something negative; darkness is where light is not, and it is for this reason that light strikes upon his figures and objects as upon solid, impenetrable forms, and does not dissolve them, as happens in the work of Titian, Tinoretto and Rembrandt."

Thus a case for one being such a specialized form of the other as to be a different thing in its own right.

The 6 points would not have made a difference incidentally; all the top teams had the same answer.
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