Art in Exile: Classic Painting Techniques

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Art in Exile: a blog series focused on introducing beauty into the social media stream during a season of self-quarantine, social distancing, and a global pandemic.

Today’s Art in Exile focuses on classic painting techniques. First up: Chiaroscuro–a technique developed during the Renaissance that uses strong contrast between light and dark to define three-dimensional objects. 

Rembrandt, St. Peter in Prison, 1631, Chiaroscuro

An artist’s goal is to connect with the viewer. This is often done through technique. Consider Illusionism, a technique in which the work of art appears to share the same physical space as the viewer. 

Giovanni Battista Gaulli, Triumph of the Name of Jesus, 1685, Illusionism

Open Form describes a characteristic of Baroque art in which part of the composition extends beyond the frame, leaving the viewer to imagine what lies beyond (Ex: the bearded man’s back, right.) 

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, The Woman taken in Adultery, 1621, Open Form

One way to engage a viewer is to employ the 3rd dimension. Trompe-l’œil is a technique that uses realistic imagery to create the illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions. 

Pere Borrell del Caso, Escaping Criticism, 1874, Trompe-l’œil

How do you give a single frame a sense of motion? Figura Serpentinata is a composition technique intended to make the figure seem more dynamic by presenting it in a spiral pose, like a serpent.

Hendrick Goltzius, Horatius Cocles,1586, Figura Serpentinata

Grisaille is a painting done entirely in shades of grey or another similar neutral color. It gives the impression of sculpture, and is often used by sculptors to plan new work. 

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, 1565, Grisaille

It is hard to pass an Escher drawing without stopping to look. He was known for his Tessellations, the tiling of a plane using one or more shapes, which fit together with no overlap or gaps.

M.C. Escher, Day and Night, 1938, Tessellation

Tenebrism, also called Dramatic Illumination, uses profoundly pronounced chiaroscuro to add drama to an image by shining a spotlight. Tenebrism is exaggerated chiaroscuro used for dramatic effect.

Cano Alonso, The Crucifixion, 1638, Tenebrism

Unione, developed by Raphael, is like chiaroscuro except instead of achieving contrast using light and dark, it creates contrast using planes of vivid color, seen here in the red, blue, and yellow. 

Raphael, La Belle Jardinière, 1508, Unione


Russ Ramsey
Russ is a pastor and author living in Nashville, Tennessee. His books include Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), and the Retelling the Story Series, featuring The Advent of the Lamb of God (IVP, 2018). His personal mission is to communicate the truths of Scripture in accessible ways to people in process. Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.

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