What is Chiaroscuro?

Mushrooms

The term ‘Chiaroscuro’ derives from the Italian words ‘chiara’ – light, and ‘oscuro’ – shadow and refers to images that use strong contrasts between light and dark as a key element in composition. The underlying principle is that solidity of form is best achieved by showing the light falling against it. The term is sometimes used to mean painted images in monochrome or two colours, more generally known in English by the French equivalent, ‘grisaille’.

Chiaroscuro is a key element in monochrome drawing, art, photography and cinema, particularly black and white media. It can refer to a range of different styles and techniques from tonal studies of two or more tones, to more dramatic white on black techniques.

It has echoes in the Japanese concept of Notan as an underlying tonal analysis of an image in order to simplify and increase its impact, particularly where this analysis includes one or more mid-tones. But chiaroscuro generally does not refer to study of tone per se (as in the final tonal collage above). It is rather the way that light creates that tonal contrast to give an impression of serenity/stillness or high drama through focusing the attention on specific areas of the scene.

See:

Some of my preparatory chiaroscuro drawing and photography experiments.

 

Origins and development in drawing and painting

Chiaroscuro is one of the four canonical painting modes of Renaissance art (alongside cangiante, sfumato and unione).

Christ at Rest by Hans Holbeing the Younger (Wikimedia)

In the Renaissance artists started to model the form through drawing on coloured paper, working from the paper’s base tone toward light using white gouache, and toward dark using ink, bodycolour or watercolour.

The Nativity at Night 1490 (wikimedia)

In painting it originated in depictions of ‘divine light’, particularly in nativity scenes. Northern Europe painters like Hugo van der Goes and his followers painted nativity scenes lit only by candle or the divine light from the infant Christ, giving an effect of stillness and calm. In sixteenth century Mannerism and Baroque art, artists like Tintoretto and Veronese used strong chiaroscuro for dramatic effect. Artists like Ugo da Carpi (c. 1455–c.1523), Giovanni Baglione (1566–1643) increased the sense of drama through lighting dark subjects with one shaft of light from a single constricted and often unseen source.

Dramatic chiaroscuro was particularly characteristic of the ‘tenebrist’ style of Caravaggio (1571–1610), Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656) and Peter Paul Rubens. Dramatic lighting from a single candle, a fire or moonlight became a key feature of the interior scenes of Netherlands artists in the 17th century.

Sacred and profane love Giovanni Baglione 1602-3
Sacred and profane love Giovanni Baglione 1602-3
The Matchmaker by Gerrit van Honthorst
The Matchmaker by Gerrit van Honthorst (Wikipedia)

Chiaroscuro Still Life

Chiaroscuro became a key feature of Still Life painting to create drama and/or emphasis symbolic meanings.

Jan van de Velde Still Life with Glass
Jan van de Velde Still Life with Glass

Jan van de Velde Google images

Juan Sanchez Cotan Google images.

See more Google images of Chiaroscuro Still Life

 Chiaroscuro in printmaking

In printmaking chiaroscuro has been used as part of a number of different techniques.

Etchings

Rembrandt transferred his chiaroscuro style from his paintings to his etchings. He relied less on the sharp contrasts of light and dark that marked the Italian Baroque, but used variations in inking the plate to produce very different effects from the same image.

Rembrandt: Christ Healing the Sick (Hundred Guilder Print), detail of an etching showing the use of chiaroscuro, c. 1643–49.
Rembrandt: Christ Healing the Sick (Hundred Guilder Print), detail of an etching showing the use of chiaroscuro, c. 1643–49.

Monoprint

Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione who invent the monotype and experimented with a range of chiaroscuro effects.

Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609-64) - The Nativity with Angels Royal Collection Trust
Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609-64) – The Nativity with Angels Royal Collection Trust

Edgar Degas used very strong dramatic chiaroscuro light effects in his dark field monotypes.

Edgar Degas (1834–1917) The Tub, ca. 1876–1877
Edgar Degas (1834–1917) The Tub, ca. 1876–1877

Woodcuts

Chiaroscuro woodcuts   developed in the sixteenth century. They are printed with different blocks, each using a different coloured ink.

Andrea Andreani 'Rape of a Sabine Woman' 1584
Andrea Andreani ‘Rape of a Sabine Woman’ 1584

They are of two main types that can be seen as a continuum:

Firstly those based on Renaissance drawing techniques using a line block and tonal blocks. The line block helps define the whole design. These require a sophisticated level of cutting and interpretation of the subject.  It is believed that this ‘Camaieu’ method was invented by Lucas Cranach while working at the court of Frederick the Wise of Saxony.

See: Emily Spicer: Renaissance Impressions: Chiaroscuro Woodcuts from the Collections of Georg Baselitz and the Albertina, Vienna; Royal Academy of Arts, London 15 March – 8 June 2014

Secondly ‘true chiaroscuro’ printmaking developed in Italy. Deriving more from chiaroscuro painting styles, this relies solely on the juxtaposition of tonal relationships without outlines. Artists cut several blocks of the same design, each representing different tones. The highlights of the design were cut from the blocks to reveal the colour of the paper. The image was printed in two or three colours, black and one or two mid-tones. The mid-tones can vary from grey, green or brown. The darkest block could represent outlines.  If two tones were used, the print achieved a rich, almost three-dimensional quality. Paintings by Raphael and Parmigianino were copied as chiaroscuro woodcuts and distributed throughout Italy and beyond.

See RISD Museum chiaroscuro woodcut

Other sources and references

https://www.britannica.com/art/chiaroscuro

2017 Monochrome exhibition at National Gallery

Japanese woodblock prints

Source: Wikipedia and You Tube videos

Woodblock printing in Japan (Japanese: 木版画, moku hanga) is a technique best known for its use in the ukiyo-e artistic genre; however, it was also used very widely for printing books in the same period. Woodblock printing had been used in China for centuries to print books, long before the advent of movable type, but was only widely adopted in Japan surprisingly late, during the Edo period (1603-1867). Although similar to woodcut in western printmaking in some regards, the moku hanga technique differs in that it uses water-based inks—as opposed to western woodcut, which often uses oil-based inks. The Japanese water-based inks provide a wide range of vivid colors, glazes, and transparency.

Ukiyo-e

In-depth video on history and development of techniques of Japanese woodcut from monochrome through painted monochrome prints to multiblock printing. It looks at its influence on Western artists like Van Gogh and Monet following the exhibition of Japanese art for the first time at the Paris Exhibition of 1867. It also looks at the modern day revival of ukiyo-e prints as paintings on shops in Tokyo regeneration.

Japanese woodblock prints with Paul Binnie

Lecture on background and underlying ideas in Japanese printing techniques.

Japanese woodblock printing History Ukiyo-e Jose Ortega

History of Japanese printing and way it spread and related to earlier Chinese and Buddhist prints.

History

Woodblock-printed books from Chinese Buddhist temples were seen in Japan as early as the eighth century. In 764 the Empress Kōken commissioned one million small wooden pagodas, each containing a small woodblock scroll printed with a Buddhist text (Hyakumanto Darani). These were distributed to temples around the country as thanksgiving for the suppression of the Emi Rebellion of 764. These are the earliest examples of woodblock printing known, or documented, from Japan.

By the eleventh century, Buddhist temples in Japan produced printed books of sutras, mandalas, and other Buddhist texts and images. For centuries, printing was mainly restricted to the Buddhist sphere, as it was too expensive for mass production, and did not have a receptive, literate public as a market. However, an important set of fans of the late Heian period (12th century), containing painted images and Buddhist sutras, reveal from loss of paint that the underdrawing for the paintings was printed from blocks.

Not until 1590 was the first secular book printed in Japan. This was the Setsuyō-shū, a two-volume Chinese-Japanese dictionary. Though the Jesuits operated a movable typeprinting press in Nagasaki from 1590, printing equipment brought back by Toyotomi Hideyoshi‘s army from Korea in 1593 had far greater influence on the development of the medium. Four years later, Tokugawa Ieyasu, even before becoming shogun, effected the creation of the first native moveable type, using wooden type-pieces rather than metal. He oversaw the creation of 100,000 type-pieces, which were used to print a number of political and historical texts. As shogun, Ieyasu promoted literacy and learning, contributing to the emergence of an educated urban public.

Printing was not dominated by the shogunate at this point, however. Private printers appeared in Kyoto at the beginning of the 17th century, and Toyotomi Hideyori, Ieyasu’s primary political opponent, aided in the development and spread of the medium as well. An edition of the Confucian Analects was printed in 1598, using a Korean moveable type printing press, at the order of Emperor Go-Yōzei. This document is the oldest work of Japanese moveable type printing extant today. Despite the appeal of moveable type, however, craftsmen soon decided that the running script style of Japanese writings was better reproduced using woodblocks. By 1640 woodblocks were once again used for nearly all purposes.

The medium quickly gained popularity among artists, and was used to produce small, cheap, art prints as well as books. The great pioneers in applying this method to the creation of art books, and in preceding mass production for general consumption, were Honami Kōetsu and Suminokura Soan. At their studio in Saga, the pair created a number of woodblocks of the Japanese classics, both text and images, essentially converting handscrolls to printed books, and reproducing them for wider consumption. These books, now known as Kōetsu Books, Suminokura Books, or Saga Books, are considered the first and finest printed reproductions of many of these classic tales; the Saga Book of the Tales of Ise (Ise monogatari), printed in 1608, is especially renowned.

Woodblock printing, though more tedious and expensive than later methods, was far less so than the traditional method of writing out each copy of a book by hand; thus, Japan began to see something of literary mass production. While the Saga Books were printed on expensive fancy paper, and used various embellishments, being printed specifically for a small circle of literary connoisseurs, other printers in Kyoto quickly adapted the technique to producing cheaper books in large numbers, for more general consumption. The content of these books varied widely, including travel guides, advice manuals, kibyōshi (satirical novels), sharebon (books on urban culture), art books, and play scripts for the jōruri (puppet) theatre. Often, within a certain genre, such as the jōruri theatre scripts, a particular style of writing became standard for that genre. For example, one person’s personal calligraphic style was adopted as the standard style for printing plays.

Many publishing houses arose and grew, publishing both books and individual prints. One of the most famous and successful was called Tsuta-ya. A publisher’s ownership of the physical woodblocks used to print a given text or image constituted the closest equivalent to a concept of “copyright” that existed at this time. Publishers or individuals could buy woodblocks from one another, and thus take over the production of certain texts, but beyond the protective ownership of a given set of blocks (and thus a very particular representation of a given subject), there was no legal conception of the ownership of ideas. Plays were adopted by competing theatres, and either reproduced wholesale, or individual plot elements or characters might be adapted; this activity was considered legitimate and routine, at the time.

Woodblock printing continued after the decline of ukiyo-e, and introduction of movable type and other technologies, as a method and medium for printing texts as well as for producing art, both within traditional modes such as ukiyo-e and in a variety of more radical or Western forms that might be construed as modern art. Institutes such as the “Adachi Institute of Woodcut Prints” and “Takezasado” continue to produce Ukiyo-e prints with the same materials and methods as used in the past.[4] [5]

Schools and movements

Japanese printmaking, as many other features of Japanese art, tended to organise itself into schools and movements. The most notable schools and, later, movements of moku hanga were:

Other artists, such as Utamaro, Sharaku, and Hiroshige did not belong to a specific school, and drew from a wider tradition
Technique

The technique for printing texts and images was generally similar. The obvious differences were the volume produced when working with texts (many pages for a single work), and the complexity of multiple colors in some images. Images in books were almost always in monochrome (black ink only), and for a time art prints were likewise monochrome or done in only two or three colors.

The text or image was first drawn onto washi (Japanese paper), then glued face-down onto a plank of wood, usually cherry. Wood was then cut away, based on the drawing outlines. A small wooden hard object called a barenwas used to press or burnish the paper against the inked woodblock to apply the ink to the paper. Although this may have been done purely by hand at first, complex wooden mechanisms were soon invented and adopted to help hold the woodblock perfectly still and apply proper pressure in the printing process. This was especially helpful with the introduction of multiple colors that had to be applied with precision over previous ink layers.

While, again, text was nearly always monochrome, as were images in books, the growth of the popularity of ukiyo-e brought with it demand for ever increasing numbers of colors and complexity of techniques. The stages of this development follow:

  • Sumizuri-e (墨摺り絵?, “ink printed pictures”)—monochrome printing using only black ink
  • Benizuri-e (紅摺り絵?, “crimson printed pictures”)—red ink details or highlights added by hand after the printing process;green was sometimes used as well
  • Tan-e (丹絵?)—orange highlights using a red pigment called tan
  • Aizuri-e (藍摺り絵?, “indigo printed pictures”), Murasaki-e (紫絵?, “purple pictures”), and other styles in which a single color was used in addition to, or instead of, black ink
  • Urushi-e (漆絵?)—a method that thickened the ink with glue, emboldening the image. Printers often used gold, mica, and other substances to enhance the image further. Urushi-e can also refer to paintings using lacquerinstead of paint. Lacquer was rarely, if ever, used on prints.
  • Nishiki-e (錦絵?, “brocade pictures”)—a method of using multiple blocks for separate portions of the image, using a number of colors to achieve complex and detailed images. A separate block was carved to apply only the part of the image designated for a single color. Registration marks called kentō (見当) were used to ensure correspondence between the application of each block.

Contemporary Japanese woodblock

Katsutoshi Yuasa

Keizaburo Matsuzaki

Lynd Ward

Trailer — “O Brother Man: The Art and Life of Lynd Ward”

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Gods’ men HD

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The Biggest Bear

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Google images

Lynd Kendall Ward (June 26, 1905 – June 28, 1985) was an American artist and storyteller, known for his series of wordless novels using wood engraving, and his illustrations for juvenile and adult books. His wordless novels have influenced the development of the graphic novel. Strongly associated with his wood engravings, he also worked in watercolor, oil, brush and ink, lithography and mezzotint. Ward was a son of Methodist minister and political organizer Harry F. Ward.

Life

Lynd Kendall Ward was born on June 26, 1905, in Chicago, Illinois. His father, Harry F. Ward, was born in Chiswick, England, in 1873; the elder Ward was a Methodist who moved to the United States in 1891 after reading the progressive Social Aspects of Christianity (1889) by Richard T. Ely.

Ward was early drawn to art, and decided to become an artist when his first-grade teacher told him that “Ward” spelled backward is “draw”. Ward studied fine arts at Columbia Teachers College in New York. He edited the Jester of Columbia, to which he contributed arts and crafts how-to articles.

Ward studied as a special one-year student at the National Academy of Graphic Arts and Bookmaking in Leipzig.  He learned etching from Alois Kolb, lithography from Georg Alexander Mathéy, and wood engraving from Hans Alexander “Theodore” Mueller; Ward was particularly influenced by Mueller. Ward chanced across a copy of Flemish artist Frans Masereel‘s wordless novel The Sun (1919), a story told in sixty-three silent woodcuts.

Ward returned to the United States in September 1927, and a number of book publishers in his portfolio. In 1928, his first commissioned work illustrated Dorothy Rowe‘s The Begging Deer: Stories of Japanese Children with eight brush drawings. May helped with background research for the illustrations, and wrote another book of Japanese folk tales, Prince Bantam (1929), with illustrations by Ward. Other work at the time included illustrations for the children’s book Little Blacknose by Hildegarde Swift, and an illustrated edition of Oscar Wilde‘s poem “Ballad of Reading Gaol“.

In 1929, Ward was inspired to create a wordless novel of his own after he came across German artist Otto Nückel‘s Destiny (1926). The first American wordless novel, Gods’ Man was published by Smith & Cape that October, the week before the Wall Street Crash of 1929; over the next four years, it sold more than 20,000 copies.[11] He made five more such works: Madman’s Drum (1930), Wild Pilgrimage (1932), Prelude to a Million Years (1933),Song Without Words (1936), and Vertigo (1937).

In addition to woodcuts, Ward also worked in watercolor, oil, brush and ink, lithography and mezzotint. Ward illustrated over a hundred children’s books, several of which were collaborations with his wife, May McNeer. Starting in 1938, Ward became a frequent illustrator of the Heritage Limited Editions Club’s series of classic works. He was well known for the political themes of his artwork, often addressing labor and class issues. In 1932 he founded Equinox Cooperative Press. He was a member of the Society of Illustrators, the Society of American Graphic Arts, and the National Academy of Design. Ward retired to his home in Reston, Virginia, in 1979. He died on June 28, 1985, two days after his 80th birthday.

In celebration of the art and life of this American printmaker and illustrator, independent filmmaker Michael Maglaras of 217 Films produced a new film titled “O Brother Man: The Art and Life of Lynd Ward.” The documentary features an interview with the artist’s daughter Robin Ward Savage, as well as more than 150 works from all periods of Ward’s career. The 94-minute documentary, culled from over 7 hours of film and narrated by Maglaras, premiered at Penn State University Libraries, Foster Auditorium, on April 20, 2012, where it was warmly received. Penn State’s Special Collections Library has also become the repository for much Lynd Ward material, and may continue to receive material from Ward family collections.

 Novels in woodcuts

Ward is known for his wordless novels told entirely through dramatic wood engravings. Ward’s first work, Gods’ Man (1929), uses a blend of Art Deco and Expressionist styles to tell the story of an artist’s struggle with his craft, his seduction and subsequent abuse by money and power, his escape to innocence, and his unavoidable doom. Ward, in employing the concept of the wordless pictorial narrative, acknowledged as his predecessors the European artists Frans Masereel and Otto Nückel. Released the week of the 1929 stock market crash, Gods’ Manwould continue to exert influence well beyond the Depression era, becoming an important source of inspiration for Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg.

Ward produced six wood engraving novels over the next eight years, including:

Ward left one more wordless novel partially completed at the time of his death in 1985. The 26 completed wood engravings (out of a planned total of 44) were published in a limited edition in 2001, under the title Lynd Ward’s Last, Unfinished, Wordless Novel.[15]

He also produced a wordless story for children, The Silver Pony, which is told entirely in black, white and shades of gray painted illustrations; it was published in 1973.

Other works

In 1930 Ward’s wood engravings were used to illustrate Alec Waugh‘s travel book Hot Countries; in 1936 an edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was published with illustrations by Ward. His work on children’s books included his 1953 Caldecott Medal winning book The Biggest Bear, and his work on Esther ForbesJohnny Tremain.

Ward illustrated the 1942 children’s book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, with text by Hildegarde Swift.

Ward’s work included an awareness of the racial injustice to be found in the United States. This is first apparent in the lynching scenes from Wild Pilgrimage and appears again in his drawings for North Star Shining: A Pictorial History of the American Negro, by Hildegarde Hoyt Swift, published in 1947. Ward uses African American characters, as well as several different Native ones in his book The Silver Pony.

In 1941 his illustrations were used in Great Ghost Stories of the World:The Haunted Omnibus, edited by Alexander Laing.

In 1974 Harry N. Abrams published Storyteller Without Words, a book that included Ward’s six novels plus an assortment of his illustrations from other books. Ward himself broke his silence and wrote brief prologues to each of his works. In 2010, the Library of America published Lynd Ward: Six Novels in Woodcuts, with a new chronology of Ward’s life and an introduction by Art Spiegelman.

Source: Wikipedia, You Tube and reading of the novels.

Frans Masereel

Frans Masereel 1889 1972 Die Passion eines Menschen 1918 ChateauBoynetAgency 2012

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The City

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Google images

Frans Masereel (31 July 1889 – 3 January 1972) was a Flemish painter and graphic artist who worked mainly in France. He is known especially for his woodcuts. His greatest work is generally said to be the wordless novel Mon Livre d’Heures (Passionate Journey). He completed over 20 other wordless novels in his career. Masereel’s woodcuts strongly influenced the work of Lynd Ward and later graphic artists such as Clifford Harper and Eric Drooker. There is a Frans Masereel Centre (Frans Masereel Centrum for Graphix) in the village of Kasterlee in Belgium.

Frans Masereel was born in the Belgian Blankenberge on 31 July 1889. He moved to Ghent in 1896, where he began to study at the École des Beaux-Arts in the class of Jean Delvin at the age of 18. In 1909 he went on trips to England and Germany, which inspired him to create his first etchings and woodcuts. In 1911 Masereel settled in Paris for four years and then emigrated to Switzerland, where he worked as a graphic artist for journals and magazines. His woodcut series, mainly of sociocritical content and of expressionistic form concept, made Masereel internationally known. Among these were the wordless novels 25 Images of a Man’s Passion (1918), Passionate Journey (1919), The Sun (1919), The Idea (1920) and Story Without Words (1920). At that time Masereel also drew illustrations for famous works of world literature by Thomas Mann, Émile Zola and Stefan Zweig. In 1921 Masereel returned to Paris, where he painted his famous street scenes, the Montmartre paintings. He lived for a time in Berlin, where his closest creative friend was George Grosz. After 1925 he lived near Boulogne-sur-Mer, where he painted predominantly coast areas, harbour views, and portraits of sailors and fishermen. During the 1930s his output declined. In 1940 he fled from Paris and lived in several cities in Southern France.

At the end of World War II Masereel was able to resume his artistic work and produced woodcuts and paintings. After 1946 he worked for several years as a teacher at the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar (de) in Saarbrücken. In 1949 Masereel settled in Nice. In the following years until 1968 several series of woodcuts were published, which differ from his earlier “novels in picture'” in comprising variations of a subject instead of being a continuing narrative. He also designed decorations and costumes for numerous theatre productions. The artist was honoured in numerous exhibitions and became a member of several academies. Frans Masereel died in Avignon in 1972 and was entombed in Ghent. The cultural organizationMasereelfonds was named after him.

Influence

From Mon Livre d’Heures (A Passionate Journey, 1919)

The American graphic artist Lynd Ward was greatly influenced by Masereel in creating his novels in woodcuts. A number of cartoonists have cited Masereel as an influence on the development of the graphic novel: Art Spiegelman cited Mon Livre d’Heures as an early influence on his Maus. Will Eisner cited Masereel as an influence on his work, as has scratchboard novelist Eric Drooker.

Wordless novels

Source: edited from Wikipedia articles on Masereel and his different works, the You Tube videos and reading of his graphic novels themselves.