Tenebrism refers to a style of painting characterized by high contrast between light and shade — emphasis placed on chiaroscuro to achieve dark, dramatic effects. This style was made famous by Caravaggio, an Italian, Baroque painter of the early 1600’s. Below is an example of one of his paintings:
Notice the number of dark areas mixed with brightly lit sections. It makes a very dramatic presentation. The focus is inescapably on the brightly lit face, bodice, and hands.
Rembrandt, who was a younger contemporary of Caravaggio, also did many portraits in the tenebrism style. Below is one of Rembrandt’s self portraits.
I have long been a fan of this style, and I finally tried painting in this style. This is my latest painting, called, “Time Lost”.
This painting is an allegorical oil painting of a woman saddened by the passage of time and her lost youth. The presence of the skull and the pocket watch signifies the nearing of death and the passage of time. The pen is a reference to a life that is mostly written. The Autumn scene behind the woman contrasts with the springtime scene behind the youth.
This painting uses tenebrism, but not as completely as I might have liked. Possibly, there is too much brightly lit area, but I felt as though I needed the lit pieces in order to tell the story. Perhaps the dim Autumn sky behind the woman could be darker, but not at the expense of hiding the connection between the Autumn in the woman’s background compared to the springtime in the youth’s background. The blue suit is another place that might have been darkened. It was important to show the difference between the youth’s airy, relaxed clothes and the woman’s stiff suit, but it may have still been noticeable even if I had darkened the woman’s torso area.
I found it difficult to break away from my typical method of showing light as if it was saturated throughout the composition. Trying to spotlight only certain parts of the composition, while leaving the rest in darkness, proved more daunting than expected. I would welcome any comments about the use of tenebrism, especially if anyone is trying to incorporate it into their own painting style.